Texas news investigations are showing the fundamental flaws of a system of oversight for law enforcement that relies on state police to investigate alleged misconduct by local police, Reuters reports. In Fort Worth, officials at the Tarrant County Jail sometimes refuse to explain or provide even basic information about how and why someone died in custody, including to families of the deceased. The Texas Rangers -- which investigates deaths involving local police – almost never finds that officers did anything wrong and is cagey about providing government records. One woman, Shanelle Jenkins, found out by reading a newspaper that her husband had died at the jail. Her husband Robert Geron Miller, who struggled with mental illness, was arrested on misdemeanor warrants after police responded to a call about a man who was possibly homeless. The Rangers determined that his death resulted from a sickle cell crisis – a dubious yet relatively common explanation when Black people die in police custody.
At least 40 people have died in the Tarrant County jail since 2016, 31 of them in just the past two years. Most of the deaths were from natural causes or illness, but others have left people like Jenkins suspicious about whether their relatives were victims of excessive force, medical neglect or some other misconduct. A examination by the New York Times identified 29 cases the Rangers investigated since 2015 in which a person died after a struggle with law enforcement. None led to any charges against officers. Jenkins’ attorney, David Henderson, said agencies have been “more willing to provide information to newspaper reporters than to our clients or even to us,” partly because they’re aware that newspapers are willing to litigate at length in order to get (ostensibly) public records. Jenkins is taking legal action to get more records about her husband’s death and to sue for wrongful death. “I don’t think the Rangers are truly independent when they conduct these investigations,” Henderson said. “They’re basically an umbrella organization that protects police officers.”