Jailer Who Shot and Killed ER Patient Indicted for Deadly Conduct

Attorney Ben Crump (at podium) joins San Marcos attorney Chevo Pastrano (l) at a January press conference on the case of Joshua Wright, who was killed by an officer while in the ER (Courtesy of Caldwell/Hays Examiner)

Joshua Wright’s family and progressive citizens in San Marcos had worried that Hays County jailer Isaiah Garcia would face no consequences for shooting Wright six times in the back in an emergency room in Kyle in December 2022.

But District Attorney Kelly Higgins announced on April 7 that a grand jury under his direction has indicted Garcia for Deadly Conduct, a felony. Garcia faces two to ten years in prison if convicted. Shortly after the indictment was made public, the Sheriff’s Office fired Garcia.

“The family of Joshua Wright is relieved by news of this indictment, as it gets us one step closer to ensuring that former officer Garcia will be held accountable for his deadly actions,” said attorney Ben Crump in a statement, speaking on behalf of Wright’s mother, Beverly, and his brother, Chris Clark. (Crump has represented the families of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and Breonna Taylor.) “It is crucial that when officers act violently and against protocol, that they and the departments that train them are held responsible for their actions to ensure that these killings stop happening.”

Wright, a pretrial detainee held at the jail on charges of the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, was sent to the Ascension Seton Hays Hospital emergency room in Kyle on Dec. 12, 2022, for an unspecified complaint. Per official and off-the-record accounts, Garcia was guarding Wright and had removed his handcuffs so that he could use the restroom, when Wright, still shackled at the feet, attempted to flee the hospital. Rather than use the taser he had available, Garcia drew his gun and shot Wright six times in the back. Though he was literally already in an emergency room, doctors on the scene were unable to save Wright.

Judge Ruben Becerra, the highest elected official in the county, welcomed the news of the indictment. “I appreciate that the Hays County District Attorney’s office has shown their commitment to fighting for justice for all residents of Hays County,” Becerra said. “From the beginning, I have called for transparency from the sheriff’s office in this incident.”

Becerra’s comment, for those who have followed the case, called to mind the evening that news of Wright’s death began to circulate and the initial statement from Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler, which alleged that Wright had assaulted Garcia and then gratuitously listed the offenses Wright had been charged with – none of which were violent – ostensibly in an effort to justify the shooting.

Probably trying to make the point that the shooting was justified, Charley Wilkison, the executive director for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, tweeted out hours later that Wright had grabbed sharp medical instruments before he was shot, implying that he’d threatened Garcia and hospital staff. But a day later, apparently lacking any evidence that this was true – and perhaps having reviewed Garcia’s body camera video – Wilkinson changed his tweet to say that Wright had “moved toward” sharp medical instruments.

The change did not go unnoticed. At a rally for justice organized by Wright’s family, Crump asked, “If they are lying about this, then you gotta ask, ‘What else are they lying about?’” Crump, Beverly Wright, and others demanded that county officials release the body camera video.

The video still hasn’t been seen by the public but it was by the grand jury that decided to indict Garcia. That alone is a big victory in a county where many instances of excessive force in the jail have gone challenged, said Amy Kamp of the Hays County Jail Advocates. “We’re tentatively optimistic that this is the beginning of some accountability for violence against incarcerated people in Hays,” Kamp said. “We’re also relieved to learn that Garcia has finally been fired from the Hays County Jail, although it is unacceptable that it has taken this long.”

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.