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Commissioner calls for federal investigation after two recent Tarrant County inmate deaths

Commissioner calls for investigation after two recent Tarrant County inmate deaths
Commissioner calls for investigation after two recent Tarrant County inmate deaths 02:13

TARRANT COUNTY — A Tarrant County commissioner is now calling for a US Justice Department investigation after two Tarrant County inmates died in custody over the past week.

"So in three-and-a-half months, we've had five deaths," said Alisa Simmons, Tarrant County Precinct 2 commissioner. "Somebody needs to be paying attention. Overcrowding, overpopulated jails – it's a problem across the country. I'm concerned about Tarrant County. We think the deaths that we seem to have are involving neglect."

On Thursday, an inmate was found unresponsive in his cell at Tarrant County Jail and later died after emergency responders tried life-saving measures.  

On Sunday, a medical emergency at the Tarrant County Correction Center ended in the death of an inmate, the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office said.  

Just before 9 a.m. Sunday, routine cell checks for contraband were underway.

When detention officers approached a cell in the Tarrant County Correction Center, 31-year-old inmate Anthony Johnson refused to exit and allow the area to be searched, according to the sheriff's office. 

Johnson began to fight the officers, the report said, and Oleoresin Capsicum spray was used to bring the inmate under control. 

John Peter Smith medical staff examined Johnson after the incident, which the TCSO said was standard procedure when inmates are involved in fights or sprayed with OC spray.  

During the examination the inmate became unresponsive and staff members began CPR. Taken to John Peter Smith Hospital, Johnson was pronounced dead just after 10 a.m. 

CBS News Texas spoke to Johnson's two sisters, who say Johnson was a Marine and was suffering from schizophrenia. They say they learned more about their little brother's death from CBS News Texas' report than from the sheriff's office. 

"He was my motivator,"  sister Janelle Johnson said with tears in her eyes. "He was inspirational. He was intelligent. He is intelligent, loving. Nobody deserves that type of treatment when they're trying to get help. They know it."

A detention officer with non-life-threatening injuries was also taken to the hospital for treatment.   

The Saginaw Police Department arrested Johnson on Friday after its officers responded to a man standing in an intersection wielding a knife at a driver. The man fled on foot but was caught and charged with possession of a controlled substance PG 1, tampering/fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair and evading arrest. He was taken to Tarrant County Jail on Saturday. 

CBS News Texas also spoke to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which explained why state law prevents jail leadership from speaking about inmate deaths during investigations. 

"You're dealing with the release of public information which is governed by state statute and also the fact that if you do release information that is part of an ongoing criminal investigation, you can in turn be charged yourself," said Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

According to TCJS, Tarrant County has had six in-custody jail deaths over the past five years – from January 2019 to April 2024.  Dallas County had 49 and Bexar County in San Antonio had 73.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the death at the request of Sheriff Bill Waybourn.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner will release the name and cause of death of the inmate once next-of-kin have been notified.

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