Arlington Detention Officers Indicted in Inmate's Death

Family of Jonathan Paul calls indictments 'milestone,' want Arlington PD to review jail policies

A grand jury indicted two North Texas detention officers in connection with the death of an inmate at the Arlington city jail.

Stephen Schmidt and Pedro Medina were each indicted Monday on a charge of criminally negligent homicide in the death of 42-year-old Jonathan Paul, the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office said in a statement.

Court records did not list attorneys for either Schmidt or Medina. The Tarrant County Sheriff's Office said both men were released after each posting bonds of $5,000. Neither Medina, 33, nor Schmidt, 57, could immediately be reached for comment.

Paul's family spoke to the media Tuesday about the indictments.

"This is only a milestone," said Marvin Phillips, Paul's uncle. "But we appreciate the milestone as we've come to it."

Paul's uncles and their attorney joined the Arlington branch of the NAACP Tuesday morning for a news conference, where they called on Arlington police to review jail policies.

"Jonathan Paul was guilty of nothing that should have resulted in his death," said Alisa Simmons, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.

A grand jury indicted two North Texas detention officers Monday in connection with the death of a man who died while in custody at the Arlington city jail.

Paul died March 13 – four days after being arrested in his apartment complex on a disturbance call. Witnesses said he was screaming and throwing items out of an upstairs window. He was arrested after officers learned he had outstanding misdemeanor warrants for unpaid traffic fines.

They took him to the city jail and placed him in a holding cell.

Surveillance video from inside the cell shows Paul making nonsensical noises, standing on the toilet in the cell, taking off his pants and trying to flood the cell with the toilet water.

After he ignores instructions to stop, the video shows several jailers enter Paul's cell, then pepper-spray and restrain him. They hold him on the ground in a hallway before picking him up and moving him to an isolation cell.

Once inside the isolation cell, Paul becomes unresponsive. About 15 minutes later, paramedics are called in and they take Paul to the hospital.

Paul was taken off life support days later.

"No one disputes that Jonathan was acting erratically," said Luis Bartolomei, attorney for Paul's family. "There is no question about that. But not once did anyone from the Arlington jail call for any type of mental health practitioner or take Jonathan to any type of hospital. The only time that 911 was called was after they asphyxiated Jonathan and left him for dead."

Arlington police released several hours of video footage from inside the city jail, where inmate Jonathan Paul was taken following his arrest in March and then found unresponsive in a cell. Two detention officers were indicted by a grand jury in the man’s death.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office has listed Paul's cause of death as "in-custody death with application of physical restraints" and also listed "acute psychosis" as a significant condition. The manner of death was undetermined.

An autopsy report showed there was THC in his system when he died. THC is a compound found in marijuana.

"Both restraint and pepper spray played a significant role in the death of Mr. Paul," the medical examiner wrote in the autopsy report. "His apparent psychosis would most likely have been treatable with a medical evaluation and hospital treatment. This apparent psychosis left Mr. Paul vulnerable to sudden death during restraint."

Paul's family had a second, independent autopsy performed. That report ruled his death as a homicide.

"He didn't deserve to die this way," said Phillips. "He didn't deserve to be treated inhumanely."

Phillips and Simmons also expressed concerns that none of the jailers involved were disciplined following the incident.

The Arlington Police Department said Monday it has placed Medina on administrative leave with pay. Schmidt, who was the lead detention officer, retired from the police department on Oct. 22.

"We don't have him [Paul] anymore," said Phillips. "Those people went right on back to work. They weren't suspended. They weren't given any type of disciplinary action up until [Monday]."

"It's been eight months," said Simmons. "And for no discipline to have taken place, for the investigation to have taken this long, that's unacceptable."

Arlington Police say now that the grand jury proceedings are complete, they’ll be able to finalize their administrative investigation into this case. Pending that outcome, any officers or jailers involved in the incident could be disciplined.

"While our desire is to always provide the highest possible transparency and offer a quick release of the facts, an exhaustive fact finding process is necessary to ensure that due process is maintained for all individuals," said Lt. Chris Cook, spokesperson for the Arlington Police Department. "That includes Mr. Paul. That also includes our employees."

The department said it hoped to complete its administrative investigation in about two weeks.

"We always review our response to see if there's anything else – are there opportunities we can look for so this outcome won't occur again?" said Cook.

Community activist Rev. Kyev Tatum, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Fort Worth, commended the grand jury on the indictment but thinks more can be done.

"We still believe Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson should still step down from his position as chief. He has not been transparent and he has been unfair to the family and black leaders in the community," Tatum said in a news release Tuesday.

In May, Paul's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against the city of Arlington and Johnson. The suit alleges the detention officers used excessive force to restrain Paul.

Robert Rogers, the attorney for both detention officers, released the following statement Monday evening:

"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. 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."

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