NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Tarrant County agrees to settle Javonte Myers jail death lawsuit for $1 million

 A photo of three red brick buildings in downtown Fort Worth. The one in the middle is a tall, double tower with a sign that says "Tarrant County Correction Center."
Miranda Suarez
/
KERA
The Tarrant County Jail complex in downtown Fort Worth. Tarrant County Commissioners agreed on Tuesday, Sept. 19, to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Javonte Myers.

Tarrant County will pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit over the jail death of Javonte Myers, while local prosecutors continue criminal cases against two jailers accused of neglecting him.

Myers’ mother, Sondrea Miller, sued the county in April 2022, arguing the Tarrant County jail ignored her son’s serious medical and mental health needs, and that he could have survived had jail staff taken proper care of him.

Myers, 28, died of a seizure disorder in his cell in 2020, county medical examiner records show. The lawsuit alleges that Myers’ body lay on the floor of his cell for hours before jailers noticed he was dead.

Miller agreed to accept the $1 million settlement, according to county documents, and Tarrant County commissioners approved the settlement during their regular meeting on Tuesday.

Democratic County Commissioner Alisa Simmons voted for the settlement, but cautioned that big payouts cannot be the solution to problems in the jail.

"Javonte's death and his mother's grief is the ultimate tragedy here," she said. "No amount of money is going to make that better."

Simmons warned this won't be the last settlement over a jail death that taxpayers have to fund since the county is facing several lawsuits.

Miller's lawsuit, filed in federal court, also names two jailers as defendants: Darien Kirk and Erik Gay. Both also face criminal charges for their alleged role in Myers’ death.

Kirk and Gay lied about performing required check-ins on Myers, according to law enforcement. Both were indicted by a grand jury and face one charge each of tampering with a government record with the intent to harm or defraud another.

Kirk's next court date is scheduled for Sept. 25, and Gay's is scheduled for Oct. 2, court records show.

In a legal quirk, the county is not only paying to settle the case and to prosecute Kirk and Gay. It’s also paying for Kirk and Gay’s legal defense in the lawsuit. County employees who get sued for something they did on the job are entitled to legal representation from the county, under the Texas Local Government Code.

The $1 million dollar settlement could have been avoided, former state Rep. Lon Burnam said during public comment.

"There are way too many examples of mistreatment of inmates in our jail, and it leads to this sort of expense," Burnam said.

Multiple lawsuits are still underway against Tarrant County and the sheriff’s office, the agency that oversees the jail, over deaths behind bars, as well as allegations of mistreatment and neglect.

Some Tarrant County residents have asked for greater oversight of the jail.
Earlier this year, a coalition of activists worked with Texas A&M School of Law to send a petition to the U.S. Department of Justice, asking for an investigation into jail conditions. In August, a group of locals traveled to Austin to ask the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to perform surprise investigations of Tarrant County jail facilities.

This story was updated Tuesday, Sept. 19 to include information from the Tarrant County Commissioners meeting.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.