According to homicide investigators, on Sunday, August 28, Precinct 3 Deputy Constable Omar Ursin had just picked up dinner for his family at a favorite restaurant and was driving home in northeast Harris County when he was shot to death by suspects in a dark-colored sedan.
On Friday, Harris County deputies arrested and charged Ahsim Taylor Jr., aged 20, and Jayland Womack, aged 20.
Taylor had previously been arrested and charged with Capital Murder and Tampering with Evidence in the shooting death of Kelvin Shepherd that took place in June of 2021. Although a magistrate originally set his bond at $200,000, Judge Amy Martin of the 263rd District Court ordered Taylor’s bond lowered to $75,000.
Ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device and abide by curfews, Taylor violated his conditions of release repeatedly from December 2021 through January 2022, but the judge declined to revoke bond. Again, in March 2022, Martin reinstated Taylor’s bond conditions rather than ordering him back into custody.
According to court records, Womack was charged with murder in January 2021 but released on a $35,000 bond. After violating bond conditions by having contact with another suspect and possessing firearms and marijuana, Womack’s bond was revoked and he was taken into custody, but the 208th District Court under Judge Greg Glass authorized his release on a $75,000 bond.
Under the new murder charges for killing Ursin pending in the 263rd District Court, the district attorney’s office has motioned for the court to deny bail, which is permissible under the Texas Constitution since both Taylor and Womack were already out on felony bond at the time of the murder.
Although the two have hired their own attorneys, the suspects are asking county taxpayers to pay for their investigators and expert witnesses, as is often provided through the county’s vastly expanded Public Defender’s office and pre-trial services.
According to Crime Stoppers of Houston’s Andy Kahan, there have now been at least 182 people murdered in Harris County allegedly by suspects out on multiple felony bonds over the past few years.
Following the arrests Friday, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez took to social media to state that while he supported the rights of the accused, “violent repeat offenders should not be allowed to walk in and out of jail before their trial, putting the public at risk.”
As the elected sheriff, Gonzalez is represented in county matters by the county attorney’s office, but he has also hired Murray Fogler to represent him over the past few years. Fogler is also an attorney for Arnold Ventures, the philanthropic organization founded by Texans John and Laura Arnold that advocates for “policies that decarcerate” pretrial defendants.
Gonzalez and Fogler have also been involved in the Russell v Harris County federal lawsuit that seeks to have felony bail practices declared unconstitutional, and in January 2021 Gonzalez requested that Chief U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal authorize the release of more than 1,500 inmates of the Harris County Jail in light of COVID-19 concerns.
While judges such as Martin and Glass have implemented lenient bail policies for felony suspects, the jail population last week exceeded 10,000 inmates. According to Gonzalez, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards determined the jail was out of compliance with state standards due to overcrowding and slow processing of new suspects. Conditions at the jail prompted the Harris County Deputies Organization to file suit last year, and since then a female guard was brutally assaulted by an inmate and another inmate was murdered.
Earlier this year, Gonzalez asked for more than 400 new detention officers for the jail, but as with all other traditional law enforcement agencies including the district attorney’s office and the constables, his requests have only been partially met by the commissioners court.
The county has a criminal case backlog of more than 135,000, with nearly 50,000 of those cases being for felony crimes, but the commissioners court led by County Judge Lina Hidalgo has been reluctant to add prosecutors or authorize night and weekend courts to process more cases.
As of Saturday morning, both Taylor and Womack were still in custody and the criminal court judge has not yet made a decision as to whether the men will be given bond.
Last year, Martin made news for releasing a felony suspect with multiple prior convictions on a $1,750 bond who later shot Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Barrigan in the hand, back, and face.
Both Glass and Martin lost their Democratic Primary elections last March and their terms will end on December 31, 2022. Many other judges in Harris County are running for re-election this year including controversial judges Chris Morton, Josh Hill, and DaSean Jones, who have also frequently been in the news for lenient bond policies.
Public safety has been a top concern for Harris County residents this election cycle, and one new Political Action Committee, Stop Houston Murders, has unveiled a campaign to draw attention to judicial races to replace criminal court judges.
Update: On Monday, bond was set for $1 million for Womack and $2 million for Taylor, and the judge will hold a bond review hearing on Friday. Precinct 3 Constable Sherman Eagleton noted that ankle monitors worn by the suspects had helped identify Womack and Taylor, but added, “When you arrest someone for murder and they bond out, and they put an ankle monitor on them, that ankle monitor is not going to stop someone from killing again.”
Update: According to new documents posted by the Harris County District Clerk, Visiting Judge Denise Collins reset previous bonds for Womack and Taylor at $2 million each, and ordered the two to be held without bond on the new murder charges of Ursin. Taylor also has an additional $1 million bond for Tampering with Evidence. The Judge will hold another bond hearing on Friday.
A copy of the bond document can be found below.
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Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.