Attorneys dispute role in Tarrant County inmate death ruled homicide

Attorney for jailer said his client did nothing wrong, while attorney for family of deceased inmate said more are responsible.

One day after the Tarrant County Medical Examiner ruled the in-custody death of Anthony Johnson Jr. a homicide by chemical and mechanical suffocation, attorneys have disputed the role of a jail supervisor in Johnson’s death.

Attorney Randall Moore said his client Lt. Joel Garcia, the jail supervisor working the day Johnson died, said the use of force was justified. Moore said in a statement Saturday that Garcia, if charged, would not receive a fair trial due to continued “inflammatory comments” made in the media.

No one has been charged in Johnson’s death, but the Texas Rangers are investigating.


Daryl Washington, an attorney representing Johnson’s family, said Garcia, other jailers and jail medical staff should each face criminal charges. He said Saturday he is prepared to pursue a civil lawsuit to seek damages for Johnson’s death.

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Johnson, 31, died just before 10 a.m. April 21 while in custody at the Tarrant County jail. The Tarrant County sheriff’s office said at the time Johnson, a former marine diagnosed with schizophrenia, died from a “medical emergency” after refusing to leave his cell for a contraband check and fighting jailers. The sheriff’s office said pepper spray had to be used to restrain Johnson, and he later became unresponsive and died.

Partial video of the incident released by the sheriff’s office shows multiple jailers kneeling on Johnson’s back during the altercation. Coughing can be heard and Johnson can be heard yelling “I can’t breathe” as about a half-dozen jailers work to handcuff him.


The autopsy results from the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruling means a mix of chemicals and physical force prevented his body from intaking sufficient oxygen.

In May, Rafael Moreno, a jailer seen in the video kneeling on Johnson’s back, and Garcia, his supervisor, were fired before being reinstated without pay a few days later. Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn said the two were fired for breaking protocol and improperly restraining Johnson.

Johnson’s death was one of 63 at the jail since 2017, a count that has brought increased scrutiny onto the operations of the facility run by the sheriff’s department.


Moore said in the release the facts will show Garcia was not at fault for Johnson’s death.

Garcia’s role in the incident was minimal, Moore said, and his client was on-scene for just four minutes. In the release, Moore presented a timeline of the incident, which he said shows Garcia’s actions outside of what has been publicly released.

As of Saturday, the only publicly seen footage of the incident is a 2-minute, 42-second long cellphone video recorded by Garcia that was released in May. Washington, the Johnson family’s attorney, has said a longer video shown to the family shows a “continued brutalization” of Johnson that lead to his death.

According to Moore’s timeline, the fight began around 8:51 a.m., when Johnson “attacked” multiple jailers. Moore then said pepper spray was deployed roughly 14 seconds after the incident began.

Moore said Garcia arrived on scene at about 8:52, which can be seen in the video. Moore said during the course of the video, Johnson’s legs were not fully restrained, meaning jailers had to struggle to move him downstairs.

Moore said around 8:55, Garcia noticed Johnson was unresponsive and called for medical support, which arrived and began tending to Johnson about a minute later. This would be roughly two to three minutes after Johnson first yelled that he couldn’t breathe, according to Moore’s timeline and the released video.

“Multiple supervisors and jail personnel were present before, during and after the events listed above,” Moore said in the release. “Despite what you are being told, the tactics publicly stated as what should have been done, are not part of the use of force policy or training at Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. Garcia followed stated policy and practice in his limited involvement in this matter.”

Moore said Garcia is saddened by Johnson’s death and the “public persecution” he has received.


Washington said Moore’s statement did not explain why Garcia, a supervisor, did not attempt to push Moreno or other jailers off of Johnson when he said he could not breathe. Washington also said medical personnel should have been called when Johnson first yelled he could not breathe.

Washington also claimed witnesses reported jailers sprayed pepper spray down Johnson’s throat, which he said likely led to Johnson’s suffocation.

“He, as a supervisor, should have intervened,” Washington said. “Furthermore, he and the medical personnel did not do anything to try to assess Mr. Johnson, and I think the video is going to support that. The fact that he’s saying that his client is not going to get a fair trial, and then he turns around and trying to get a timeline of events that the media still has not had an opportunity to review.”

“He’s doing exactly what he’s accusing people of doing.”


Washington also said the sheriff’s department has attempted to shift blame for Johnson’s death. Initially, the sheriff’s department called Johnson’s death a medical emergency, before saying Moreno and Garcia did not follow training and proper protocol.

Following the medical examiner’s ruling, the sheriff’s department on Friday released a statement that said the chemical suffocation finding could be attributed to the use of pepper spray or the presence of methamphetamine.

It is currently not known if methamphetamine was present in Johnson’s system at the time of his death.

“It seems like the sheriff is now playing both sides,” Washington said.


Johnson had been in custody at the Tarrant County Jail for two days prior to his death. He was arrested in Saginaw after he was accused of wielding a knife at a driver while standing in a roadway, and was facing charges of possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest.

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