Tarrant County to pay $1 million to family of man who lay dead in jail cell for 6 hours

Tarrant County agreed to pay $1 million to the mother of a man who lay dead on a Tarrant County jail cell floor for six hours before staff discovered his body.

Javonte Myers, 28, died of a seizure disorder on June 19, 2020. Myers’ mother, Sondrea Miller, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Tarrant County jail in April 2022. According to county documents, the county will pay Sondrea Miller $900,000 and pay her lawyer, Dean Malone, $100,000. The terms of settlement agree that Myers’ family cannot seek any other legal action against the county in regards to his death.

According to the suit, a jailer charged with falsifying records in Myers’ case told an investigator that his managers regularly encouraged staff to lie about checking on inmates.

The lawsuit laid out an alleged culture of deceit surrounding jail records. According to the investigation, two jailers, Erik Gay and Darien Kirk, lied about checking on Myers more than 20 times and were charged with tampering with a government record. Those charges are still pending, according to court records.

A Texas Ranger investigated Myers’ death and during an interview with Gay, Gay said supervisors encouraged jailers to lie on paperwork about checks being conducted properly. Gay said supervisors were only concerned about “making the computer look good,” even in the midst of other deaths at the jail, according to a transcript of the interview obtained by Miller’s attorney.

County officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests to comment on the settlement.

About two months before Myers died, jail employees missed three of their checks on another person at the jail, leaving him alone for nearly an hour. He died by suicide. The jail also lost its state certification for six days in summer 2020.

Other jailers interviewed during the investigation admitted it was common practice to not correctly check on people in the jail, according to the lawsuit.

Myers was dead in his cell for hours before someone noticed, according to the lawsuit. A MedStar report obtained by the family’s lawyer said that Myers had obvious signs of rigor mortis to both of his arms, his hands, his fingers and his jaw. Myers was last seen alive at 10:44 a.m. MedStar wasn’t called to his cell until 4:49 p.m.

The lawsuit says the sheriff’s office falsified records to make it look like adequate checks were done on Myers. Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office staff told an emergency medical tech that there were “routine visual checks done on (Myers) every 15 minutes,” according to the suit.

“This was clearly false and designed to make jailers and the Sheriff’s Office appear that they had done nothing wrong,” the lawsuit says.

Kirk, the other jailer accused of falsifying records, told investigators he was also not aware that Myers had health issues, even though intake notes show the jail knew Myers had a seizure disorder, insomnia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety. The jail’s intake form also indicated that Myers had been hospitalized in the prior 90 days because of seizures.

In June, another family filed a lawsuit against Tarrant County jail alleging their mother did not receive adequate health treatment and died on the floor of her cell as a result. Georgia Kay Baldwin was declared incompetent to stand trial and should have been transferred to a state hospital, according to the federal suit filed by her sons. Instead, her mental state deteriorated until Sept. 14, 2021, when the 52-year-old was found dead in her cell. Her cause of death was listed as dehydration; she lay right next to the working water fountain affixed to her cell toilet.

The suit alleges the Tarrant County jail caused Baldwin’s death due to its “policies, practices and customs” of not caring for incarcerated people’s medical and mental crises.

So far this year, seven people have died inside the Tarrant County Jail, according to in-custody death reports. The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office has been publicly scrutinized due to allegations of neglect, abuse and a lack of transparency.

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