Life at Tarrant County Jail is rough and inhumane, but June was particularly tough. That’s when two prisoners died within three days of each other.
One unnamed 39-year-old committed suicide, while 55-year-old JoAnn Lemmons died from an “unknown medical emergency,” based on findings from the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. Months later, and life — and death — go on at 100 N. Lamar St. downtown.
That’s because Tarrant County is run by sexist, racist, bigoted Christian Nationalists who grovel before local megachurches and Southlake powerbrokers rather than actually living out Christlike values.
Preventable fatalities are always tragic, but the 2020 death of an infant at Tarrant County Jail has traumatized a mother and deprived the world of a beautiful, healthy newborn girl (“ Justice for Chasity,” Jan. 2022).
Civil rights attorney Jarrett Adams, who represents the mother of the deceased neonate, said he doesn’t sleep well these days. He feels that when his client gave birth to the girl who died inside the jail due to a lack of medical attention, the world lost a future leader.
“How do we know this baby wasn’t going to become the first Black attorney general in Texas or a mayor?” Adams told us. “People who were born in the projects and slums can climb their way up to change” the world.
Chasity, a young Black woman who suffers from multiple cognitive impairments, still asks to see her child. Her family is dealing with the financial hardships of caring for her while grappling with the loss of the baby. Adams sued the county on behalf of Chasity’s family last year for the wrongful death of the newborn, but county officials have so far refused to settle the litigation or disclose key evidence tied to the case, Adams said. At the request of Chasity’s mother, Adams is now seeking injunctive relief, meaning he is demanding the county to address the high rate of jail population deaths in addition to awarding monetary damages to Chasity.
“You cannot tell me there is not a need for someone to monitor this jail to make these deaths stop,” Adams said.
Based on data from the Texas Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that tracks jail deaths reported to the state, Tarrant County Jail logged 17 population deaths in 2020, 13 the following year, and 11 in 2022. While sadistic Sheriff Bill Waybourn routinely lies to the public by describing anyone who enters his shithole as a public danger, the stories of the men, women, and now a newborn who have perished on his watch tell a different story. Violent offenders are processed at the downtown holding facility, true, but many of the 5,000-plus detainees are victims of over-policing and policies that criminalize poverty.
It would be overly simplistic to solely blame our anti-government/militia-loving sheriff for the culture of death he has cultivated over seven years in office. Supporting and protecting Waybourn is a small army of crooked assistant district attorneys. In July, county prosecutors recommended dropping aggravated assault charges against a Tarrant County jailer who beat a member of the population nearly to death (“ Pulling Favors?” July 6). The Texas Rangers, who are tasked with investigating jail deaths, rarely if ever find jailers to be at fault. County jailers are well aware of the fact that taking a lifeless body to JPS to have the detainee declared “dead” on hospital grounds avoids any outside investigation.
Whoops! Guess the hospital killed ’em.
Locals should be horrified that county attorneys are using taxpayer funds to fight Adams’ lawsuit rather than helping Chasity and her family recover from the trauma caused by culpable county jailers. Every month and sometimes every week, Tarrant County Jail’s body count grows — a damning indictment on our elected officials and a justice system that would rather expend resources hiding heinous acts than serve the public good. l
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.