Lawyers for the family of a Black man shot in the back six times by a Texas deputy in a hospital believe the officer used “unnecessary” and “deadly force” when attempting to stop him from running away.
The family’s legal team is demanding the release of footage of the incident to get a complete picture of the circumstances leading up to the man’s death, or they will sue.
On Monday, Jan. 2, civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Chevo Pastrano hosted a press conference on the porch of the Ulysses Cephas House in San Marcos, Texas, to demand that body camera footage of the tragic killing of Joshua Leon Wright, 36, in a hallway inside of the Ascension Seton Hays Hospital on Dec. 12 be released. They stood with Wright’s mother, Beverly, his brother Chris Clark and his daughter Xyrenna, 13.
Wright was an inmate in the Hays County Corrections facility brought to the hospital for non-disclosed medical issues. His lawyers say, based on testimony from witnesses, Wright his wrists and ankles were shackled. At some point during the afternoon hospital visit, Wright requested to use the restroom, and while still under supervision, his hands were released.
While he and the escorting deputy were in the restroom, an altercation ensued between the inmate and the officer. Pastrono categorized the incident as “a short scuffle and a push,” resulting in Wright attempting to escape from the hospital’s emergency room with his ankles still in cuffs.
The officer then shot Wright at least six times in his back, according to an independent autopsy, to stop him from exiting the facility, a measure the attorneys say was excessive and violated the man’s civil rights. The autopsy showed one of the bullets went through his spinal cord and possibly paralyzed him. He died despite the medical staff attempting life-saving procedures to preserve his life.
Initially, the Austin American-Statesman reports, authorities did not state if Wright was armed at the time of his attempted escape or how he posed a threat to the officers or others in the hospital.
“We stand here because there is no excuse — there’s no reasonable explanation why a man in shackles should ever be fired upon even once. There are all kinds of less than lethal ways to stop a man from walking away from or shuffling away from or even attempting to run away,” Pastrano said.
Their call for action echoes those of elected officials like Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra, who asked in the interests of transparency that the video be shared with the public 10 days following the shooting, like nearby Austin mandates.
However, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office has not met the deadline and says “there is no timetable for its release.”
According to KXAN, Anthony Hipolito, the spokesperson for the HCSO, said there is an investigation involving multiple agencies stalling the release of the body camera video.
“We are working with the Texas Rangers as they are the lead agency. The footage has not been released due to the ongoing investigation. It is customary that video footage and other evidence be withheld during an open investigation to protect all parties involved in any incident,” Hipolito said.
Crump and Pastrano have now submitted a Public Information Request for the footage, threatening to file a complaint against the city and sheriff’s office to obtain it. The team has also been in conversations with the hospital’s legal team to secure the surveillance camera from the floor, hoping it will also reveal details about the shooting.
The family and their lawyers’ argument is not that Wright was wrongfully detained, did not assault an officer, or did not try to escape.
“If this was his fault, I can accept it. But show us the video,” said Beverley Wright, Joshua’s mother.
A former Austin police officer, Wayne Vincent, said in an interview with FOX 7 the case is not as simple as lawyers make it seem. Still, the video footage will be helpful in determining if department policy and training were ignored.
The 30-year law enforcement veteran discussed the “Shoot-Don’t-Shoot” training officers receive, saying, “You are authorized to use deadly force in saving your life or the life of a third party.”
Vincent said in this case, the officer had to make a split-second decision that could have been disastrous if no action had been taken and he harmed a bystander.
He said to consider if he did nothing, “the next thing you know, you have a hospital employee that’s injured or even taken hostage in the furtherance of this escape attempt. No officer wants to know that because of their inaction, they caused injury or death.”
Texas law states the legal standards for corrections officers inside of a correctional facility to use deadly force is as follows:
“(A) guard employed by a correctional facility or a peace officer is justified in using any force, including deadly force, that he reasonably believes to be immediately necessary to prevent the escape of a person from the correctional facility.”
The issue for this case is if the hospital is considered a correctional institution.
The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT), who will be representing the officer in this case, said the officer believed Wright posed a threat when he broke free and ran. A post on social media said he believed Wright headed toward where medical instruments were and “grabbed” them, and “moved toward” hospital staff. CLEAT alleged the inmate could have used those emergency room utensils as weapons. This tweet has since been deleted.
“It’s my understanding that he attacked the deputy, hit him in the throat and physically attacked him, and then made his way toward these potential weapons that could have been used against patients and nurses and the medical staff there,” said Charlie Wilkison, CLEAT executive director days following the incident.
Now, Wilkison is saying the organization is unsure if Wright was armed.
The shifting of messaging was clear to the judge and Crump, and it further fuels the request for the video.
“So they lied,” Crump said while blasting the union.
Beccera said Wilkison’s allegations differ “from accounts by some of the witnesses in the hospital,” and the only way officials could improve “public trust and understanding of the context surrounding this tragic loss of life” is if the footage is released.
Wright was locked up for a plethora of crimes including the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, bail jumping, failure to appear, reckless driving, criminal mischief, and evading arrest and detention. Still, the lawyers say, this gave the officer no right to use deadly force — and if the shooting was justified, officials should share the video so that his family can be at peace.
“We are not asking for anything special. We are not asking for anything extra. All Miss Beverly, Chris, and Xyrena are asking for is equal justice. If this had been your son, your father, whatever you would want to happen, that’s what these Black people want to happen,” said Crump.