The uncle of an Arlington man who died after a day in the Arlington jail in March said Tuesday that “the blue need to clean up their act.”
“When they tell you to back the blue, well, the blue need to clean up their act because they’re the only gang in town who gets away with what they get away with,” said Marvin Phillips, uncle of Jonathan Paul, 42.
“My nephew is a lamb to the slaughter.”
On Monday, a Tarrant County grand jury indicted two Arlington jailers on one count each of criminally negligent homicide in Paul’s death.
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The indictment “is only a milestone,” Phillips said. “Yes, we appreciate the milestone. It’s a mark that, yes, we have some justice, as we begin to try to believe in a justice system that has also failed us so many times.”
Phillips was addressing NAACP members and media who gathered at an Arlington church for a news conference about the indictments Tuesday morning.
A Tarrant County grand jury’s completely random decision to indict Pedro Medina and Steve Schmidt should send a chill down the spine of every honest, hard working law enforcement officer.
attorney Robert Rogers
The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office reported that Paul died an “in-custody death with application of physical restraints” and listed acute psychosis as a contributing factor. The specific cause of his death has not been determined.
On video of Paul’s arrest on March 9 and of his hours in jail, released by Arlington police Tuesday, Paul can be seen crying in the back of a patrol car and later in a jail cell, pacing and yelling, undressing and stopping up the toilet. Several officers restrained him and moved him to another cell. When his breathing got shallow, 911 was called and he was taken to an Arlington hospital. Paul died after life support was removed on March 13.
The jailer and officers in the video were not identified.
Phillips said that Paul had no history of psychosis nor had he ever had a psychotic episode that he was aware of before the disturbance that landed him in jail on March 9.
“He looked like he was having a bad day,” Phillips said. “Anybody can have a bad day.”
The jailers, employees of the Arlington Police Department, were identified as Pedro Medina, 33, and Steve Schmidt, 57.
Medina, a jailer since 2012, has been on administrative leave with pay, a police news release said. Schmidt retired Oct. 22 after 10 years as a jailer. He was a lead detention officer at the time of Paul’s death.
After the indictment was returned Monday, Medina and Schmidt surrendered at the Tarrant County Jail and were released on $5,000 bail each.
Robert Rogers, the attorney representing them, said in an emailed statement that his clients did not deserve their treatment.
“A Tarrant County grand jury’s completely random decision to indict Pedro Medina and Steve Schmidt should send a chill down the spine of every honest, hard working law enforcement officer,” Rogers said.
“These two dedicated public servants with impeccable records had the misfortune of being on duty when a criminal in the midst of a drug-induced psychotic episode flooded his own cell with toilet water and fiercely resisted multiple officers as they tried to move him to a safe, dry cell.
“Every officer involved, including Pedro and Steve, acted completely within the training and accepted practices of the Arlington Police Department.”
. . . the blue need to clean up their act because they’re the only gang in town who gets away with what they get away with.
Marvin Phillips, uncle of Jonathan Paul
Seven jailers and two police officers appeared before the grand jury, which had access to more than 27 hours of video and also heard from members of Paul’s family, according to a spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
Neither Arlington police nor the DA’s office explained what contact Medina and Schmidt had with Paul and what about their conduct merited indictment.
Arlington police officials are still investigating whether several jailers and police officers followed policy in their encounters with Paul, Lt. Christopher Cook, police spokesman, said Tuesday afternoon.
The findings could result in exoneration or firings, Cook said.
Police officers and jail officials try hard to identify people who come to the jail in physical or mental distress. The Arlington department transfers more people to mental health facilities than any other police department in Tarrant County, Cook said.
The jail environment is unique, and often people are brought to jail while they are intoxicated, which can mask symptoms of mental illness, Cook said.
“Anyone who is in distress, we should immediately give them first aid,” Cook said. “That will be a part of the administrative investigation.”
No other deaths have occurred in the Arlington jail in the past two years as a result of incidents that occurred there, Cook said.
Other jail deaths
Two Tarrant County jailers were fired but were not indicted following the March 12 death of Larry Crowley, 52.
According to the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, Crowley’s death was self-inflicted, occurring after he shoved two towels down his throat and suffocated. The two jail officers — Larry Joe Lars, 45, of Arlington and Jeremiah Francis Fenwick, 32, of Fort Worth — were required to look in on Crowley every 20 minutes, sheriff’s department officials said.
But according to a departmental investigation conducted after Crowley’s death, Lars and Fenwick not only stopped observing Crowley regularly but they lied on their shift reports about how often they looked in on him and later lied to investigators who interviewed them after his death.
After the hanging death of Sandra Bland in Waller County and other recent jail suicides, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the state agency that oversees county jails, is issuing a new inmate intake form that will require jailers to ask more specific, direct questions when booking people.
Bland was found dead on July 13, and an autopsy concluded she committed suicide. On one of two intake forms at the Waller County Jail, Bland indicated that she had suicidal thoughts. The jail’s failure to monitor her as a suicide risk prompted lawmakers to seek improvements in jail screening.
Changing the standard jail intake form — which is supposed to be filled out immediately after an inmate is admitted — was low-hanging fruit for lawmakers who have summoned experts, academics and state officials to hearings over the last three months to demand answers.
The new intake form is expected to be in use by December, an agency official said.
The previous form asked inmates to self-report medical problems, mental health histories or intellectual disabilities and indicate if they felt depressed or suicidal, among other inquiries.
The new form uses multiple questions to try to elicit the same information and gives jailers longer instructions for responding to inmate answers.
Brandon Wood, jail standards executive director, said city jails, such Arlington’s, are not regulated or inspected by the state.
This includes material from Star-Telegram archives and the Associated Press.