Tarrant County jailer fired following inmate death, attorney says


An attorney representing the supervisor said the termination is “an attempt on the Sheriff’s part to avoid accountability and shift responsibility to line staff.”

FORT WORTH, Texas — A Tarrant County jailer and a supervisor have been fired following the April death of inmate Anthony Johnson Jr., according to an attorney with an association that represents law enforcement.

Jane Bishkin, an attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, confirmed to WFAA that one of the jailers connected to the case was fired Thursday morning by Sheriff Bill Waybourn.

Randy Moore, an attorney representing the supervisor, said his client was fired Wednesday. He said his client had given a voluntary statement to the Texas Ranger, who is conducting the criminal investigation. He said his client then went to internal affairs expecting to give a statement, but was instead fired without explanation.

“My client followed established procedures but since those procedures are lacking he followed established practice where policy was lacking,” Moore said. “Policy making is done by head staff, not line staff. The Sheriff is ultimately responsible for operation of the jail by law. Any shortcomings in that regard fall directly on him.”

In his statement, Moore said the termination is premature given that the investigation has not been completed and no cause of death is known. Moore added that the firing violates “violates County policy and clearly is politically motivated.” 

“This termination is clearly an attempt on the Sheriff’s part to avoid accountability and shift responsibility to line staff,” Moore said. “We will be appealing. The one thing in common on all these deaths is the leadership. Firing the rank and file obviously has not solved the problem.”

Neither the fired jailer’s name nor the supervisor’s name has been released. Bishkin said the letter of termination did not give a reason for the termination. The sheriff’s office has not responded to requests for comment.

“[Waybourn] did not give a reason for the termination, but of course we disagree,” Bishkin said. “We don’t believe any of our members violated departmental policies or contributed to the inmate’s death in any way.”

Bishkin said the jailer’s firing will be appealed.

“We feel that the sheriff’s actions are premature as the medical examiner’s’ report has not been released. Therefore, we don’t know the cause of death,” Bishkin said. “We believe the sheriff’s actions are a response to the heightened public interest in this case.

The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office says Johnson, 31, died April 21 from a medical emergency after being pepper sprayed during a fight with officers in his cell. TSCO said detention officers said the fight occurred after officers approached Johnson’s cell and he allegedly refused to exit during a routine cell check for contraband.

Johnson’s sisters, Chanell and Janell Johnson told WFAA their brother, a Marine veteran, suffered from schizophrenia and tried to get help in the days leading up to his arrest.

“He was starting to get manic,” Chanell said.

The family told WFAA they have not received any specific information about his official cause of death or what occurred during the alleged fight.

“We need answers. Just tell us what happened,” Janell said.