Autopsy: Psychosis was factor in Arlington man’s in-custody death

Jonathan Paul died in a local hospital four days after he was arrested by Arlington police.
Jonathan Paul died in a local hospital four days after he was arrested by Arlington police. Handout

Physical restraints and the use of pepper spray played a significant role in the death of a man four days after he was arrested by Arlington police, according to his autopsy report.

Officials with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled that Jonathan Ryan Paul, 42, died an “in-custody death with application of physical restraints” while listing acute psychosis as a contributing factor. The manner of death has not been determined.

The recently released report says that the psychosis left Paul, who was washing himself with toilet water and howling while in jail, vulnerable to sudden death during restraint.

The autopsy also concludes that jailers followed department protocol.

Luis Bartolomei, the attorney representing Paul’s family, said there are unanswered questions in the report that he hopes will be made clear by the videotape of Paul’s time in the Arlington jail.

“How does psychosis leave a man vulnerable to sudden death?” Bartolomei asked. “It seems as though this report was written in such a way to be interpreted in a light most favorable to the Police Department.”

The report says Paul’s psychosis would most likely be treatable with a medical evaluation and care at a hospital.

Paul’s cousin Bobbie Waters said she does not understand how a man she remembers as vital, energetic and good fell so far, so fast.

“His mom is not here and his dad is not here,” Waters said during a recent interview. “His mom was dear to me. She and my mom were close growing up and Jonathan was dear to me. I owe it to her to find out what happened.”

Bartolomei has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family.

Paul was arrested March 9 on outstanding warrants by Arlington police who were responding to a disturbance call, according to authorities. Waters said her relatives told her later that Paul suffered two heart attacks and a collapsed lung while he was in the hospital and finally succumbed to brain death. The decision to remove Paul from life support was made four days after he was detained in the Arlington jail, Waters said.

‘I am the lion king’

Video of the jail’s confinement area where Paul was held has not been released, Bartolomei said.

“The police have had the video for more than three months and if there is nothing there then why not release it?” Bartolomei said. “We’re not debating that he was disruptive that evening. But within 24 hours he goes from healthy to being unresponsive in jail and is taken to the hospital and dies? If anyone can interpret that in any other way than he was killed I would be surprised.”

Excerpts from the autopsy report depict a troubled man the day after his arrest.

“Physical restraint and pepper spray are used by jailers as they attempted to release handcuffs from Paul. After release, video shows Paul undressing and dressing multiple times, washing his body with toilet water, pacing the cell and acting like he is shooting a gun. … He floods the cell with water and is noted to be howling and yelling, including, ‘I am the lion king!’ … He will not follow instructions; he is pepper-sprayed in the face and forcibly removed from the cell by four jailers.”

After being restrained and handcuffed, Paul began struggling again, but a few minutes later, at 5:52 p.m., a jailer says that “Paul’s breathing is very shallow” and 911 is called.

Arlington paramedics arrived about 6 p.m. and began treatments four minutes later but found no pulse, the report said. Eight minutes after paramedics arrived Paul had a heart attack, but he was shocked once and regained his pulse about 6:20 p.m. At 6:33 p.m. Paul arrived at the Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital emergency room, the report said.

Shortly before 10 p.m. Paul was transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit and diagnosed with a kidney injury, respiratory failure, liver failure and a temperature of more than 103 degrees.

Cannabinoids, evidence that Paul used marijuana, were found during a toxicology screening, according to the report.

DA’s office reviewing case

Arlington police have declined to comment on the investigation and have forwarded the investigative file to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office for review. An official with the DA’s office said that review is ongoing and officials will decide whether the case will be presented to a grand jury.

A critical case review was conducted by officials with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office on May 26, which states the following:

“Sudden in-custody deaths are often multifactorial and can involve physical restraint, acute psychosis, use of drugs and alcohol, use of pepper spray and underlying medical conditions. Paul had no known past psychiatric history. It is unclear exactly when Mr. Paul stopped breathing.”

Paul was arrested after officers were called to his apartment in the 300 block of East Mitchell Street because of a disturbance. When they arrived, they heard Paul yelling and saw broken windows, Arlington police said in news release. Officers were told that Paul had been throwing items out of an upstairs window.

Officers determined that Paul was wanted on multiple misdemeanor warrants. He was arrested after officers tried several times to speak with him, the release said.

Waters described Paul as fun-loving and energetic, more like a big brother to her than a cousin. Going to his funeral when he was only 42 was unnerving, Waters said.

“I’m not doing this to try and badger the police,” Waters said. “They are heroes and they risk their lives and do a lot for us. But what was done to Jonathan Paul was not right. It’s obvious that a crime occurred in the jailhouse, and whoever was involved in that crime needs to be held accountable.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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