Fired Tarrant jailers connected to death of Anthony Johnson reinstated, on admin leave

The jailer and jail supervisor fired in connection to the death of Anthony Ray Johnson Jr. in the Tarrant County Jail have been reinstated and placed on paid administrative leave, but it may not last, Star-Telegram news partner WFAA reported.

Rafael Moreno, the 9-year veteran jailer, and Lt. Joel Garcia, the 24-year veteran supervisor, were reinstated because the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office didn’t follow proper protocols, WFAA reported.

Moreno and Garcia were fired May 15 and their terminations were announced the next day, right before the sheriff’s office released partial footage of what happened leading up to Johnson’s death. In the video, Moreno is seen placing his knee on Johnson’s back and putting his weight there. Johnson was face down on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Sheriff Bill Waybourn said at a news conference May 17 that Moreno broke rules about putting his knee on Johnson after he was already handcuffed. Garcia, he said, did not handle the situation well and made decisions that resulted in a delayed response by medical staff.

Randy Moore, an attorney representing Garcia, told the Star-Telegram on May 17 that Garcia did nothing wrong. He called for a medical team to come up the stairs to the mezzanine where Johnson was and they took too long to get there. That contradicts what Waybourn told reporters at the news conference, saying that Garcia made the decision to take Johnson down the stairs instead of having medics come to him.

WFAA reported that the reinstatement of Garcia and Moreno is likely temporary, giving the sheriff’s office an opportunity to terminate their employment properly according to civil service rules.

Jane Bishkin, an attorney representing Moreno, told WFAA she expects the reinstatement is a technicality and that Moreno will eventually be terminated again.

“I would hope that the sheriff would wait until the MEs report comes out to determine the cause of death,” Bishkin told WFAA.

Johnson’s death has sparked outrage among some county leaders and led community activist organizations to call on authorities to be more transparent. Democrat Alisa Simmons, the commissioner from Arlington, has called for the release of the full video. Republican Manny Ramirez called for the county to reevaluate the policies for releasing video and other information in sheriff’s office investigations, though stopping short of calling for the full release of the video.