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Tarrant County approves settlement with woman whose baby died after giving birth alone in jail

Sheriff faces questions, criticisms about inmate deaths at Tarrant County commissioners meeting
Sheriff faces questions, criticisms about inmate deaths at Tarrant County commissioners meeting 02:01

FORT WORTH – A woman who gave birth unattended in the Tarrant County Jail will receive a $1.2 million settlement from the county.

The Tarrant County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the agreement with Chastity Congious Tuesday morning.

Congious was jailed without bond starting in January 2020 on charges of assaulting a family member and injuring a child, elderly or disabled person.

On May 17, 2020, Congious gave birth alone in a jail cell. At the time, the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail, said Congious did not "immediately disclose the birth," but that officers knew she was pregnant and checked on her regularly.

Congious and the baby were taken to the hospital; the baby eventually died.

The next month, the sheriff's office said an investigation found no wrongdoing in the case.

In February of 2022, Congious sued Tarrant County for wrongful death of the baby.

According to the terms of the settlement agreement, Congious will drop the lawsuit without the county admitting fault.

Before the vote on the settlement, Commissioner Alisa Simmons said the county has paid out over $2.2 million in settlements over deaths at the jail in just the last eight months.

"It seems, then, that Tarrant County taxpayers are paying quite a heavy price to subsidize the dehumanizing culture in our jail and leadership failures manifesting in the sheriff's office, which I believe are the root cause of these tragedies," Simmons said.

Problems at the Tarrant County Jail

The settlement comes amid a period of renewed scrutiny of the Tarrant County Jail and Sheriff Bill Waybourn.

In April, an inmate at the jail died after a confrontation with officers. Video of the incident shows a corrections officer kneeling on Anthony Johnson Jr.'s back as Johnson said he could not breathe.

Last week, Waybourn announced that he had fired the officer, Rafael Moreno, as well as the lieutenant in charge of the situation, Joel García.

"Two individuals that we terminated were being held accountable because they violated the policy," Waybourn said. "And it was below the standards of the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office."

Since 2017, at least 63 people have died while in custody at the Tarrant County Jail, most of which were due to medical issues or natural causes, according to the TCSO.

Sheriff Waybourn defended the way jailers respond to uncooperative inmates during a presentation on de-escalation tactics at the county commissioners meeting Tuesday.

The department doesn't have Special Response Teams to send in when a crisis happens. Instead, all officers are trained to de-escalate.

"They really care about these people and want the best for them," he told commissioners. "There's exceptions, but it's not the rule."

However, community members pointed out the dozens of inmate deaths that have happened since 2017, under his watch.

"We don't trust you, and I don't respect you," a woman said during public comment. "You need to resign."

Waybourn said the jail recently passed a review by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, who called it a "clean and quiet" jail.

Still, advocates want to see more accountability and transparency.

"We're calling for a full public accounting of the money spent because of wrongful deaths, and a briefing from the sheriff of what's being done to change the circumstances in the jail resulting in these deaths," one said during public comment.

Commissioner Manny Ramirez also pushed the TCSO to develop policies and procedures surrounding how information and video related to critical incidents will be released to family members and to the public.

As it stands today, there are no written guidelines related to that type of communication.

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