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Tarrant County Sheriff walks through moments surrounding inmate's death: CBS News Texas exclusive

Tarrant County Sheriff walks through moments surrounding inmate's death
Tarrant County Sheriff walks through moments surrounding inmate's death 06:03

FORT WORTH – In an exclusive interview with CBS News Texas, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill E. Waybourn took time Thursday to give a moment-by-moment account of the controversial April 21 death of inmate Anthony Johnson Jr. 

It's a death the sheriff says should have never happened.

"Well, they're talking to him," Waybourn said, describing what transpired. "They're (jailers) saying, 'Hey you need to go down there.' He's not wanting to go."

Waybourn said the struggle starts and three or four officers "cannot handle him."

"You see them pushed back and knocked out of the way there," Waybourn said.  "The officers described him as having superhuman strength. They could not control him."

The jailers finally gain control, Waybourn said, when officer Rafael Moreno "placed his knee on Anthony Johnson's back."

Within seconds, Johnson was handcuffed. That's when Waybourn said it went all wrong.

"If they have to, when they take someone to the ground, they can put a knee on the back until this person is cuffed," Waybourn said. "When he's cuffed, they're to stand up and that's it."

So the second the cuffs go on, the pressure is released?

"Should be released," Waybourn said. "... And if you went to our academy today, that's exactly how they would train you."

Waybourn initially fired Moreno and Moreno's supervisor, Lt. Joel Garcia.  They both have been reinstated but are now on administrative leave.

On Thursday, the sheriff said a reason existed for his reversal and that he's simply not happy about it.

"I am angry," Waybourn said. "I believe that we followed every protocol, double and triple checked on some things before we terminated those individuals."

Waybourn said the criminal district attorney reviewed his department's steps and determined "we missed a couple of steps."

"Out of an abundance of caution, I said, 'All right, we are going to do it right. We will pull it back in, and let's go down the line,'" Waybourn said. "We are going down that path."

Meanwhile, Waybourn said the Tarrant County Jail doesn't need a Department of Justice investigation.

"No, I don't think so at all," Waybourn said.


"Not that I'm afraid of it," Waybourn said. "If they show up tomorrow, that's fine. I think it would be a waste of resources. We passed jail standards last week … They knew everything and we passed with flying colors."

Waybourn said every jailer goes through extensive training, including additional training on de-escalation techniques for handling mental health and suicidal inmates.

However, the sheriff said expectations versus his budget and staffing leave those who man the tiers and cells in a tough spot. 

"In this day and age, we got this young jailer and we'd like for him to be a degreed psychologist, have a medical degree and also a social work degree, be a 10th-degree black belt along with just knowing a little about the law," Waybourn said. 

"So we expect a lot out of them and we don't have enough training. That's as simple as I can say it. I want more training for them – and it's you know what we can afford with the staffing we got."

In 2017, the sheriff said 25% of the jail population was under jail provided mental health care, known internally as MHMR.

In 2024? Those under MHMR care now make up 66% of the jail's total population.

Adding to the dramatic rise, a backlog of available beds at state mental health facilities. 

Currently, Tarrant County has 112 inmates who need to be in mental health facilities.

"Can't move them anywhere, and they are a danger to themselves or others according to the court, so they have to stay where they are," Waybourn said.

Executive Chief Deputy Charles Eckert said before anyone is put in a cell, they're asked a series of questions about their medical history.

"So let's say that the inmate answers no, no, no, no, to every question, but they're having difficulties with their thought process, they're slow and so forth, the officers are trained to immediately do an MHMR request," Eckert said. "If they answer yes to anything or they answer yes to medical, then the very next step is MHMR."

Meanwhile, Johnson's family says the 31-year-old was in a mental health crisis when he died.

Waybourn and Eckert say Johnson entered the jail relatively healthy.

"He was able to communicate," Eckert said. "He talked to all my officers, answered all the questions, admitted he was schizophrenic, but he was cleared for general population due to his behavior and the fact that he wasn't having an episode at that time."

And when you say due to his behavior, for clarity, he was fine? 

"He was acting just like you and I are right now," Eckert said.

So there would have been no need for this sign that identifies him as violent, MHMR?

"He would have never been housed in the general population if that was the case," Eckert said. "He would have been in a cell like this."

But his words likely mean little to the Johnson family and other critics who say it's time for Waybourn to resign.

"When unfortunate and tragic things happen like that we put it under the microscope and it's my job to hold them accountable, and we did that, and we are doing that," Waybourn said.

The Johnson family has called for Waybourn to release more of the video, including the 14-minute version they were shown. So far only six minutes have been made public. 

Waybourn said if the family makes that request directly to him, he will consider it. 

The funeral service for Anthony Johnson Jr. is set for Friday.

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