WATCH: Video shows knee on Anthony Johnson Jr.’s back before death; 2 Tarrant jailers fired

Read the latest in our coverage of the death of Anthony Johnson Jr. and other issues in Tarrant County jail.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn and Texas Department of Public Safety Regional Director Jeremy Sherrod are giving updates on the investigation and showing video that led up to the in-custody death of Anthony Johnson Jr.

The news conference was called after three weeks of silence from the Sheriff’s Office and news Thursday that two jail employees were fired in connection with Johnson’s death.

Sheriff Bill Waybourn released the names of the two employees who were fired, Detention Officer Rafael Moreno and Lt. Joe Garcia. Moreno used a technique that’s not allowed and that he was not trained in when restraining Johnson, Waybourn said. He clarified that Moreno put his knee on Johnson’s back after he which Johnson was unresponsive.

Garcia was terminated on the basis that he was in charge and “allowing this to occur,” and he was not urgent in carrying out his duties, Waybourn said.

The district attorney’s office showed the over five-minute video to the family before the press conference.

Johnson, a 31-year-old Marine veteran, died April 21 following an altercation with detention officers at the Tarrant County Jail during which he was pepper-sprayed by jailers, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

It is not clear if the Sheriff’s Office will be showing video of what led up to Johnson’s death.

The Star-Telegram has requested the video, and on Tuesday the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, asked the Texas attorney general to rule on whether the video was public record.

One of the jailers involved in the case was fired Thursday morning by Sheriff Waybourn, and a supervisor was fired on Wednesday, according to their attorneys.

The names of the fired officers have not been released.

Jane Bishkin, an attorney with the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told WFAA that the termination letter for the employee fired on Thursday did not give a reason for the officer’s firing, and she plans to appeal.

Waybourn “did not give a reason for the termination, but of course we disagree,” Bishkin said. “We don’t believe any of our members violated departmental policies or contributed to the inmate’s death in any way.”

“We feel that the sheriff’s actions are premature as the medical examiner’s’ report has not been released. Therefore, we don’t know the cause of death,” Bishkin said. “We believe the sheriff’s actions are a response to the heightened public interest in this case.”

Randy Moore, the lawyer who represents the supervisor, said his client gave a voluntary statement to the Texas Ranger who is leading the criminal investigation and then was fired without explanation during a meeting with internal affairs, WFAA reported.

Moore also called his client’s firing premature because the investigation is incomplete and Johnson’s cause of death is unknown. “This termination is clearly an attempt on the Sheriff’s part to avoid accountability and shift responsibility to line staff,” Moore told WFAA. “We will be appealing. The one thing in common on all these deaths is the leadership. Firing the rank and file obviously has not solved the problem.”

Autopsy results are still pending, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office website.

What has the family of Anthony Johnson Jr. said?

On Monday an attorney for Johnson’s family, Daryl Washington, told the Star-Telegram that the family still hadn’t heard anything from the Texas Rangers, who are investigating his death. The Rangers are a division of DPS.

Washington has said Johnson’s body had bruises that suggested force was used.

The Sheriff’s Office has said the altercation occurred when Johnson refused to come out of his cell during a routine check for contraband.

Johnson was arrested in Saginaw on April 19 amid a schizophrenic episode. His family told the Star-Telegram they tried to take him to a mental health hospital but were told he wasn’t violent enough to admit.

Johnson’s family demanded transparency from Tarrant County and its Sheriff’s Office in front of a packed meeting room on May 7.

“You can’t see my pain right now, but I can make sure y’all turn colors and see pain,” Anthony Johnson’s sister Janell Johnson told county commissioners.

Before allowing public comments, the commissioners listened to county administrator Chandler Merritt — who does not work for the Sheriff’s Office — read statements that had previously been released to the media about Anthony Johnson’s death.

Sheriff Waybourn, who is regularly in attendance at commissioners court meetings, was not present, nor was any representative of his office.

On their way out of the meeting room and following her and her two daughters’ public comments, Johnson’s mother, Jacqualyne, told commissioners, “We want that tape.”

Washington has also called for the release of the video.

“If it’s too much pressure for the sheriff to expose wrongdoing ... he needs to resign,” Washington told the Star-Telegram on May 8. “They’re going to try to keep it from coming out for a long time. It’s going to be damning. You’re going to see someone who didn’t want to die.”

What have Tarrant leaders said about the jail death?

County Commissioner Alisa Simmons asked for the video to be shown during the closed session of commissioners court. Her request was denied.

Simmons echoed her call for the video to be released on Thursday after the Sheriff’s Office announced the press conference.

“Today, I am amplifying my call for the release of all video that captured the April 21, 2024, altercation that preceded the death of Mr. Anthony Johnson,” Simmons’ statement said.

“Clearly, today’s termination of a jail staffer by the Sheriff is indicative of conduct so egregious in the Johnson case that it has warranted at least one termination.”

The statement also called for the family to see the video before anyone else.

On May 9, County Commissioner Manny Ramirez called for transparency from the Sheriff’s Office.

“After observing the response to several recent critical incidents, including the most recent death in custody of Mr. Anthony Johnson, it has become apparent that we are not doing enough to share information with the public,” Ramirez said in a statement last week.

While the statement from Ramirez — former president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association — stopped short of calling for the video’s release, it does lay out plans to set schedules for when videos are released, news conferences are held, news releases are disseminated and next-of-kin are updated.

None of the other three commissioners have publicly commented on the case, including Judge Tim O’Hare.

The Texas Rangers have not responded to multiple requests for comment or to a question on Thursday on whether or not they have completed their investigation.