Tarrant County

‘This is an embarrassment': Johnson family puts Tarrant County commissioner in hot seat

Family calls on Manny Ramirez to do more after their loved one's death at the county jail

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At Tuesday's Tarrant County Commissioners Court meeting, commissioners honored Charles Eckert, the jail chief who retired in May.

“I’m honored to read this proclamation," Commissioner Manny Ramirez began, going on to list several positions Eckert held during his 32-year tenure with the Sheriff's Office.

“Thank y’all. And to anybody that I served or worked with, I appreciate everything. Thank you," Eckert said, followed by applause from the audience.

But it's not what some neighbors wanted to see.

“We don’t want a token for Eckert and his goodbyes and all of that," said Bishop Mark Kirkland, senior pastor at Greater Saint Mark Ministries in Fort Worth.

The Sheriff's Office has said Eckert retired "very honorably," but some point to the timing-- weeks after Anthony Johnson, Jr., an inmate and retired marine, died at the jail.

“It is, in my mind, very obvious, that it is no coincidence the timing of this retirement. It immediately follows another death in the jail in April that has been declared by the medical examiner homicide," said Lon Burnam during a public comment.

Ramirez, who brought forth the proclamation, said Eckert had announced his retirement months ago.

“Chief Eckert, he had the respect of his peers, and as you can tell today in court, there were a lot of people there to support him because he did a job for 32 years that’s very difficult nowadays," said Ramirez, defending his decision to announce the proclamation, despite backlash from the Johnson family.

“He is guilty of murder, as well," said Jacqualyn Johnson, Johnson's mother.

The family expressed outrage at Ramirez over the proclamation in the first meeting after the medical examiner ruled Johnson's death homicide by asphyxiation.

“To you, Mr. Ramirez: The fact that I live underneath your precinct and in the same breath, that you want to honor the person that is in part of the responsibility of killing, murdering, my brother, this is an embarrassment," said Janell Johnson, Johnson's sister.

Ramirez said he echoes the Johnsons' calls for accountability, and that *may* include Eckert, but he is waiting for the Texas Rangers' investigation to be complete.

“Through that investigation, I think all of that comes to light. Right now, as it’s still actively being investigated, I couldn’t decide one way or the other," Ramirez said.

The family and activists want Ramirez to join Commissioner Alisa Simmons in calling on the Sheriff's Office to release Johnson's full incident video, even if it is just to commissioners and not the wider public.

Sheriff Bill Waybourn told NBC 5 that it's against his office's standards to release video that shows "unresponsive or deceased individuals."

He denied an interview when NBC 5 approached him at the commissioner's court meeting.

"Clean hands have nothing to hide. But if the video shows that your hands are dirty, then perhaps that’s why you won’t show it—at least to the commissioners if you won’t show it to the rest of us citizens," Kirkland said.

Ramirez said while he supports transparency, it's a call for the Sheriff's Office.

“His family taught him the value of community, respect…” said Chanell Johnson, Johnson's sister, as she read Ramirez's biography during public comment.

“That’s in your bio, Mr. Ramirez, but what have you done since my brother died?" she said. “What is your job? what is the point of you being commissioner? I don’t understand that.”

The Johnsons said they want their elected official to do more-- saying he hadn't even called them to express their condolences.

“Mr. Ramirez, I am your constituent. You have not yet sent condolences to my family for the loss of my son," Jacqualyn said.

Ramirez said he welcomes sitting down with the family.

“No family should have to go through what the Johnson family’s going through," he told NBC 5. “I’ve got three daughters, so I understand that’s probably the most difficult thing that any family could ever deal with... So, I absolutely can understand the anger."

Ramirez said he's dedicated to Justice for Johnson, too.

“My responsibility is to make sure that I provide the tools and resources that a sheriff’s office needs so that it never happens again," he said.

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