Family of Texas man who died after altercation with jailers wants federal investigation

The family of a Texas man who died after an altercation with jailers, including one who pinned his knee to the inmate’s back, on Tuesday called for a federal investigation into the practices at the jail.

Anthony Johnson Jr., 31, a former Marine, died April 21 after the altercation, which officials said began when Johnson resisted jailers’ orders during a search for contraband. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner last week ruled the death a homicide due to asphyxia, or suffocation.

After fighting with staff at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth for two to three minutes, Johnson was wrestled to the floor, Sheriff Bill Waybourn has said, and jailer Rafael Moreno placed his knee on Johnson’s back for about 90 seconds while he was handcuffed. Waybourn has said that Johnson was also pepper-sprayed during the incident.

The family’s attorney, Daryl Washington, said at a news conference in Fort Worth on Tuesday that what makes it so difficult for the family is that the death “was totally preventable.”

“This family wants more than anything else to see that there’s going to be change in the Tarrant County Jail because parents are not supposed to bury their children,” Washington said.

Waybourn has said that Moreno should not have used his knee when Johnson was already handcuffed. Waybourn initially fired both Moreno and Lt. Joel Garcia, the supervisor on duty, but reinstated them about a week later and put them on paid administrative leave because the sheriff’s office said the dismissals did not follow official protocol.

“We have people who are incompetent, untrained and inhumane,” working at the jail, Johnson’s father, Anthony Johnson Sr., said at the news conference.

Anthony Johnson Jr. had been arrested two days before his death for allegedly using a knife to threaten the driver of a vehicle. His family has told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he was suffering from a mental health crisis.

Randy Moore, an attorney for Garcia, said in a text to The Associated Press that Garcia’s role in the fight was limited and that the use of force was necessary. Moreno’s attorney did not immediately return a phone message on Tuesday.

The Texas Rangers are investigating Johnson’s death. Congressman Marc Veasey, who represents the Fort Worth area, and County Commissioner Alisa Simmons have each called for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into issues at the jail.

The force used in Johnson’s death is intended to stop and subdue people without killing them, yet increasingly, it has come under scrutiny following the 2020 death of George Floyd. Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer restrained him face down on the ground for nine minutes and pinned a knee to the back of Floyd’s neck, an incident that sparked outrage nationwide.

An AP investigation published in March found more than 1,000 people died over a decade’s time after police used physical holds and weapons meant to be safer than guns.

In hundreds of the deaths, police violated well-known guidelines for safely restraining people. Most violations involved pinning people face down, in ways that could restrict their breathing, as happened to Johnson, or stunning them repeatedly with Tasers.


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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