Transparency Concerns Mount Over Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office Amid Inmate Deaths

Fort Worth, Texas – The Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office in Texas has faced criticism in recent years due to a series of inmate deaths while in custody. Concerns have been raised about the lack of transparency surrounding these deaths, sparking calls for accountability and reforms within the Sheriff’s Office.

In the past month, two inmates passed away within days of each other, reigniting demands for answers and change. Roderick Johnson, 42, succumbed to drug poisoning on April 18, while Anthony Johnson, 31, died on April 21 after an altercation with jailers that involved the use of pepper spray. Details surrounding Anthony Johnson’s death remain scarce.

Efforts to hold the Sheriff’s Office accountable for inmate deaths have faced obstacles in obtaining information. Republican County Commissioner Manny Ramirez, a former president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, has proposed guidelines to enhance transparency, urging Sheriff Bill Waybourn to consider implementing them.

Ramirez’s recommendations include setting timelines for the release of videos, notifying next-of-kin, and conducting media briefings. These standards would aim to provide the public with timely and accurate information, with provisions for situations where immediate disclosure may not be feasible.

Despite efforts to address concerns, the lack of transparency from the Sheriff’s Office continues to be a point of contention. The Commissioners Court recently convened for a briefing on incidents at the county jail, but no representatives from the Sheriff’s Office attended the meeting.

According to state records, more than 60 individuals have died in Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office custody since 2017, with the Sheriff’s Office attributing many of these deaths to illness. However, questions remain about whether all these deaths were preventable and if more could have been done to ensure the safety and well-being of inmates.

While the Sheriff’s Office asserts compliance with open-records laws, critics argue that a formal communication policy, as proposed by Ramirez, would enhance transparency and accountability within the department. Efforts to establish better communication practices between the Sheriff’s Office and the Commissioners Court are underway, with hopes of improving public trust and accountability moving forward.