Arlington police propose firing 3 jailers in inmate’s death

Note: This story has been modified. It was changed to reflect that fact that officers in question are detention officers and one is a police sergeant at the jail.

Three Arlington detention officers face firing and one police sergeant at the city jail has been suspended as a result of an internal investigation into the death of an inmate, the department said in a news release Monday night.

One of the three detention officers is Pedro Medina, 33, who was indicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Jonathan Ryan Paul, 42.

In addition to Medina, jail officers Wes Allen and Matt Fisher also received termination letters, both accused of ignoring an inmate’s emergency medical needs. Jail policy states, “When jail personnel discover an inmate or employee in need of emergency medical treatment [they] immediately render first aid,” affidavits attached to the release stated.

Jail Sgt. Frank Vacante was suspended for five days.

A fifth detention officer, Steve Schmidt, 57, was indicted along with Medina on a charge of criminally negligent homicide. Schmidt retired during the internal investigation and was not included in the proposed disciplinary measures released Monday.

Schmidt, who retired on Oct. 22 after 10 years as a jailer, was the lead detention officer on duty when Paul was in custody.

The news release said 10 employees were investigated and five were exonerated.

Paul was arrested March 9 on outstanding warrants by Arlington officers who were responding to a disturbance call, according to earlier police reports. Paul was taken to the Arlington Jail. On March 10, he struggled with with jailers and collapsed in his jail cell. He died March 13 at an Arlington hospital after his family removed life support.

Physical restraints and the use of pepper spray played a significant role in the death of Paul, according to an autopsy report released in June by the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. The autopsy also concluded that jailers followed department protocol.

Medina was cited for unbecoming conduct and judgment. Once of the reasons for his proposed firing is because he was indicted “on or about, Monday, November 9, 2015.”

Administrative documents sent to the officers by Arlington Assistant Police Chief Jaime Ayala give an insight into what happened that night.

‘Yeah, he’s fine’

Medina can be seen on a security video trying to control Paul’s legs as he kicked and squirmed in his jail cell. As he tried to control his legs, he was seen “exerting a maximum amount of pressure on his feet, which were up near his buttocks,” the administrative document signed by Ayala said.

“The video evidence suggested that this high level of force continued for a total of two minutes and 21 seconds,” the report said.

Medina told investigators that Paul, who was initially combative, offered no resistance.

“The intensity and duration of the force you applied to the inmate’s legs exceeded what was appropriate once resistance from the inmate had ceased.”

Then, after Paul was secured and left alone in his isolation cell, a transfer officer who didn’t know about the confrontation and noticed Paul wasn’t moving, and said, “Y’all sure he’s moving?”

To which Medina said, “Yeah, he’s fine.”

He did not check on Paul, even though he was just a few feet away from him, and “did not appear to be moving soon after a physical confrontation with officers.”

Medina, a jailer since 2012, has been on administrative leave with pay.

‘I don’t know, man’

The document stated that the Allen and Fisher knew from personal involvement Paul was pepper sprayed — Fisher had pepper sprayed Paul and assisted in a physical confrontation with the detention officers — yet despite uncertainty of how well Paul was breathing, they failed to go into the cell and reposition him or render first aid.

The document stated the two failed to immediately render first aid on Paul while he was in isolation.

The two checked on Paul through the window in his cell about 5:50 p.m.

Allen watched Paul lie facedown, motionless on the floor of his cell for about two minutes. Fisher watched for about 20 seconds, the document states.

“Though motionless, you described the inmate as having shallow breathing,” Ayala wrote to both jailers.

The two briefly talked about whether or not Paul should be rolled onto his side. It was not clear from the charge sheet if they spoke to each other or other jailers.

Allen was also asked by another jailer if the inmate was breathing, to which he responded, “I don’t know, man.”

Fisher called for emergency medical services after being directed by a supervisor.

It wasn’t until about 6:01 p.m. that he went back into his cell to secure him so he could be evaluated by paramedics.

Arlington paramedics began treatment Paul shortly after, but found no pulse, his autopsy report stated. Eight minutes after paramedics arrived, Paul had a heart attack, but he was shocked once and his pulse resumed 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.

“At the very least, because the inmate exhibited signs of shallow breathing, you should have taken immediate steps to ensure that inmate was repositioned in a manner to help facilitate his breathing,” Ayala wrote.

Calling EMS

Vacante received a call at about 5:52 p.m. from Schmidt who said an inmate “displayed shallow breathing” and that he was calling emergency medical services.

“Little information regarding the exact circumstances surrounding what, if anything, led up to the need to contact EMS was discussed,” Ayala wrote.

The assistant chief said Vacante did not take “appropriate initiative” to find out why paramedics were needed.

“Additionally, you did not immediately respond to the jail in order to oversee the situation even though the time needed to walk from your office to the jail was estimated at less than 60 seconds,” Ayala wrote.

Instead, it took him about nine minutes.

Vacante also told investigators that he stated little information, if any, regarding a recent application of force involving Paul had been shared with him when Schmidt called.

When asked how subordinates are supposed to notify Vacante on use of force in the jail, he said he finds out two to three days after when he receives their use of force report.

His lack of establishing expectations on reporting all use of force encounters displays a “failure to demonstrate the appropriate qualities of leadership necessary for your position,” Ayala wrote.

The medical examiner’s office said that Paul died an “in-custody death with application of physical restraints” while listing acute psychosis as a contributing factor.

The cause of his death still has not been determined.

The officers were all given two days to respond to present their rebuttal. They can also formally appeal the decision to Police Chief Will Johnson within 10 days.

The police officials declined to comment on the case Monday night, stating the findings are not final, and can be appealed.

The Paul family sued the city in federal court in May, saying that when Arlington officials became aware of Paul’s medical problems, they were deliberately indifferent to his needs and denied him the medical care that might have saved his life.

This report includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Monica S. Nagy: 817-390-7792, @MonicaNagyFWST