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Family told ‘things happened, that’s the way it is’ after suicide in Tarrant Jail, lawsuit says

·3 min read

A man who died by suicide in the Tarrant County Jail was not provided mental health assistance even after his family warned jail officials that he was going through a mental crisis, according to a lawsuit that was filed by his family last week.

Dean Stewart, 50, was pronounced dead on April 26, 2020, and the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office listed his cause of death as hanging and the manner of death as suicide. He was arrested on April 5, a suspect in a road rage shooting where the victim was uninjured, police records say. The lawsuit says the shooting stemmed from one of Dean’s “paranoidal delusions concerning a car he thought was following him.”

Spokespeople for the jail and county did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday afternoon.

Before his death, there were plenty of clues that Stewart suffered from serious mental instability and should have been watched closely or taken someplace where he could have received appropriate treatment, his brother told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2020.

Instead, he was taken to the Tarrant County Jail where jailers failed to make face-to-face observations on Stewart, according to documents obtained by the Star-Telegram from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. Because of those failures, the jail lost its certification for six days in May 2020.

The lawsuit says that Dean’s mother, Betty, spoke with Dean after his arrest. He acted paranoid and talked about people wanting to kill him. Several members of his family told jail administrators that something bad was going to happen if they did not do something to protect Dean and make sure he was on his medications.

Administrators told his family that Dean was moved to a suicide prevention/detection cell, but according to the lawsuit, he was not provided help and not placed on suicide watch.

The morning after Dean’s death, the lawsuit says, a jail guard told Dean’s brother that the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office “was just understaffed and undertrained.” Another guard told his brother that, “things happened, that’s the way it is,” according to the lawsuit.

A state investigation found that jailers failed to check on Stewart three times in the 24 hours leading up to his death.

He was left alone for nearly an hour when jailers were 21 minutes late to a check. Another time, the check was made 17 minutes late and in the third it was done 12 minutes late, according to the document.

A month later, 28-year-old Javonte Myers was found dead in his jail cell. Another investigation found that two jailers lied 20 times about performing checks on Myers.

Those jailers, Erik Gay and Darien Kirk, were charged with of tampering with a government record after Sheriff Bill Waybourn requested they be investigated.

The lawsuit, which was filed exactly a year after Stewart was found dead, alleges that jail employees violated Stewart’s Fourth Amendment rights and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount of relief.

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