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Tarrant County approves $1.2 million settlement for woman whose baby died after birth in jail

A jail cell at the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth.
Yfat Yossifor
A jail cell at the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth.

Tarrant County commissioners on Tuesday approved a $1.2 million settlement — the largest in county history — for a woman who gave birth alone in her county jail cell in 2020 to a baby who later died.

Commissioner Alisa Simmons accused jailers of neglect in the death of Chasity Congious' daughter Zenorah, who had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck when her birth was discovered.

While Simmons agreed with the payout to Congious, she said the cost of the lawsuit was enough to take care of three days operating expenses at the jail.

"Tarrant County taxpayers are paying quite a heavy price to subsidize the dehumanizing culture in our jail and leadership failures manifesting in the sheriff's office, which I believe are the root causes of these tragedies," she said.

Attorneys claimed in a 2022 lawsuit the jail did not provide Congious, who has developmental disabilities and severe mental health problems, with vital medical care. It also alleged that the jail violated state law by failing to assess her condition and notify the proper authorities about her mental illness, KERA News previously reported.

Speakers echoed Simmons' comments during Tuesday's meeting, voicing support for the settlement but agreeing settlements should not have to be paid in the first place.

Fort Worth resident Harriet Harral called for a public report to Tarrant County taxpayers about how much money has been paid in lawsuits and settlements because of jail deaths.

"One-point-two million is hardly compensation for the loss of a child. But I do have an objection to the fact that our county is asked over and over again to pay a settlement to the family of an inmate who died on the watch of Sheriff Bill Waybourn," Harral said, comparing Zenorah's death to a long list of deaths in the jail under Waybourn's tenure.

Tarrant County has now paid at least $2.8 million in settlements over jail lawsuits in recent years — $2.2 million of that total paid out in the last eight months.

Previously the largest county settlement to date was $1 million to the family of Javonte Myers, a man who died of a seizure disorder in his cell in 2020 after jailers allegedly lied about checking on him.

Congious' settlement was approved a month after Anthony Johnson Jr.'s death. Johnson died while in custody at the Tarrant County Jail. Last week about five minutes of video was released showing the events leading up to Johnson's death.

In the video, Johnson and jailers get into a physical altercation until jailers restrain him to the floor. Johnson said “I can’t breathe” at least once during the video, during which former detention officer Rafael Moreno kneels on Johnson's back for more than a minute. Moreno and his supervisor, Lt. Joel Garcia, have since been fired.

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Megan Cardona is a daily news reporter for KERA News. She was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and previously worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.