Family seeks justice for Joshua Wright, shot in the back while shackled in Texas hospital

On July 28, the family of Joshua Wright filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Isaiah Garcia, the now-fired and indicted former Hays County, Texas, jailer who killed Wright last December. This comes after a jury indicted Garcia for deadly conduct. Garcia shot Wright six times in the back while Wright was shackled with leg irons in a hospital.

How did a hospital stay become a death sentence?

Wright was being held in the Hays County Jail awaiting trial for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle when he experienced what his family called a “mental health crisis and possible medical emergency” the night of December 11, 2022. He was taken to the emergency room at Ascension Seton Hays early the next day, where he reported “severe chest pain” and confirmed he was taking his psychiatric medication as prescribed to him.

Garcia and one other jailer were maintaining surveillance of Wright while he was in the hospital experiencing a medical emergency. Even in this vulnerable space, Wright was handcuffed and shackled. Just before he was about to be discharged from the hospital, Wright asked to use the bathroom. Garcia undid Wright’s handcuffs while leaving his legs shackled in irons.

The police claimed that Wright assaulted Garcia after he left the bathroom, then ran down the hall in an apparent escape attempt, all while his legs were still bound. Garcia fired a total of six times, hitting Wright in the arms, then in the chest, and causing rapid blood loss. Garcia claims Wright was trying to escape, but he was not in the vicinity of an exit at the time he was gunned down.

Family and community members gather outside the Hays County Courthouse on Jan. 3 to remember Joshua Wright. Photo courtesy of Mano Amiga.

Lawsuit and criminal charges brought against killer jailer

The lawsuit filed by the family and the criminal charges against Garcia are attempts to right the wrong. The problem of course is much more systemic — and Garcia’s continued employment after the killing is a symptom of much larger issues. Why Garcia is being charged with a lesser charge of “deadly conduct” and not murder is not clear.

Body-cam footage has been released as part of the trial. The video has not been released publicly, but has been seen by the attorneys representing the family. Attorney Jeff Edwards described it as “among the most disturbing [videos] I have seen.”

San Marcos-based attorney Chevo Pastrano said at a “Justice for Josh” rally in January: “There is no excuse or reasonable explanation why a man in shackles should ever be fired upon even once. There are less lethal ways to stop a man from running away in shackles … we want justice for Joshua.”

While the in-custody killing happened in December 2022, Garcia wasn’t fired until the following April after his indictment. Activist Amy Kamp of the social justice group Mano Amiga stated at the January rally that the organization had tried to warn elected officials about Garcia and that Garcia had a history of violence.

Wright’s mother Beverly wrote in a statement, “While nothing can ever bring my son back, [on July 28] we filed a lawsuit in federal court against Isaiah Garcia, the officer who killed my son. Our family and my son deserve the justice he was denied last December by Mr. Garcia.” Beverly continued, “As a Black mother, I prayed my family would never be in the position we find ourselves today. The killing of Black men like my son by law enforcement remains all too common — it is past time for these officers to be held accountable.”

For their part, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office released a boilerplate statement and defense of their employee, explaining why they continued to employ Garcia for months after he killed a shackled man in a hospital: “While the Hays County Sheriff’s Office strongly supports our deputies and corrections officers … we also respect and honor the criminal justice process, including yesterday’s decision by the Grand Jury to move forward with charges in this case.”

The statement does not answer what part of the criminal justice “process” was “respected” for Wright, whose arrest and hospitalization led to his death in a hail of bullets at the very place where he should have been receiving life-saving care.

Wright’s case highlights the deadly injustice of mass incarceration

Wright’s case is just one of many deaths in jails or at the hands of jailers across Texas. This summer’s heat wave is devastating people in jails and prisons across the state. Nearly 70% of Texas prisons lack air conditioning, leading to triple-digit temperatures inside the prisons for weeks on end. In the Harris County Jail in Houston, dozens die under suspicious circumstances every year, which includes suspected heat-related deaths, violence, COVID and medical neglect.

It should be clear that this system of deadly mass incarceration, which has a culture of abuse and racism built into its very foundations, needs to be abolished!

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