Fort Worth

Fort Worth officer under indictment is among 3 accused of 'racially motivated attack'

Henry Newson had charges of resisting arrest and criminal trespass dismissed against him last March, and now authorities are accusing the Fort Worth officer who arrested him of hitting him without justification.
Henry Newson had charges of resisting arrest and criminal trespass dismissed against him last March, and now authorities are accusing the Fort Worth officer who arrested him of hitting him without justification. Tarrant County Sheriff's Office

A lawsuit filed in Tarrant County district court accuses a Fort Worth police officer of a "clearly racially motivated attack" on a 21-year-old black man while working private security at a hospital.

The lawsuit, filed in November by Henry Newson, describes a Nov. 5, 2016, incident at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth allegedly involving Fort Worth officer Jon Preston Romer Jr.

According to the lawsuit, Romer hit Newson in the face, kicked him and then put him in a headlock, taking him to the ground. Then, he and two other men the lawsuit named as hospital security guards Jeremy Flores and Jonathan Walterbach, piled on top of Newson and punched, kicked and handcuffed him while sitting on his head.

Romer Jr., 38, was indicted Thursday on a charge of official oppression for hitting Newson. He is also under indictment on charges of aggravated perjury and making a false report to a police officer, according to court records.

Romer, who is white, was released from the Tarrant County Jail after posting bond Thursday, according to the jail website.

Newson did not resist the officers and begged them to stop hurting him, according to the lawsuit. He was arrested on charges of resisting arrest and criminal trespass, with Romer listed on the police report as the reporting officer. The charges were dismissed in March 2017, according to court documents.

The reason given for the dismissal was prosecutorial discretion. The Tarrant County district attorney's office through its spokeswoman declined to comment Friday, citing its recusal from Romer's pending criminal case. A special prosecutor has been appointed.

Newson was discharged from the hospital on Nov. 5, 2016, after spending two days there recovering from an illness, according to the lawsuit. He was awaiting a ride home when he was attacked, according to the lawsuit. It was not clear what might have started the confrontation.

The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages and besides the three men names Texas Health Resources, the parent company of Texas Health Fort Worth.

Kenneth East, the attorney representing Romer in the lawsuit, declined to comment. Matthew Bobo, the lawyer representing Newson, did not return messages seeking comment. An official with Texas Health Resources declined to comment. No filings listed attorneys for Flores or Walterbach.

Romer is accused of lying to three employees of the district attorney's office who were investigating his story about the incident with Newson, according to an indictment.

Those three employees — Assistant District Attorneys Michael Schneider and Kate Gardner and investigator James Desmarasis — are listed on the indictment as fact-finders conducting a criminal investigation into Romer's behavior, and could conceivably be called as witnesses.

Also at issue is avoiding the appearance of impropriety, said Cynthia Alkon, a professor of criminal law at Texas A&M University Law School in Fort Worth.

Prosecutors work closely with Police Department employees and often call them as witnesses during trials, Alkon said. The recusal by the district attorney's office can help avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest due to these close working relationships.

"This is routinely done to protect the integrity of the office," Alkon said.

Fort Worth police officials are not talking about the investigation into Romer's behavior.

Russell Wilson, a Dallas attorney, said he was appointed special prosecutor on Jan. 8. Wilson said his next step is to set a trial date.

Romer was also involved in the 2011 shooting death of a 32-year-old handicapped father, Charal "Ra Ra" Thomas, during a traffic stop in east Fort Worth.

Thomas did not follow police orders to exit his vehicle and drove off with Romer's arm trapped in a window. Thomas continued to drive, dragging Romer along until Romer pulled himself onto a running board and fatally shot him in front of an adult passenger and three of Thomas' children. Thomas' death became a source of friction between police and the black community.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3

Fort Worth Police and the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office are looking for these 10 fugitives. Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. Call 817-469-8477.

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