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Tarrant jail death: What we know about Anthony Johnson Jr.’s life and service in Marines

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 5/16/2024

Read the latest in our coverage of the death of Anthony Johnson Jr. and other issues in Tarrant County jail.

Anthony Ray Johnson Jr., 31, died on April 21 while in the custody of Tarrant County Jail. In the weeks since, his family has demanded answers about what happened to him during his brief incarceration in Fort Worth.

Johnson was arrested on April 19 when he was having a schizophrenia episode, wielding a knife at an intersection in Saginaw.

His family has said they were relieved he was being taken into custody, because they believed he would be safe in the jail. They had tried to take him to a mental health hospital earlier that day but were turned away because Johnson wasn’t violent enough, the family has told the Star-Telegram.

Here’s what we’ve learned about Johnson’s life.

An infectious sense of humor

Anthony Johnson Jr. was a Marine. He was a son, a brother, an uncle. He was an intelligent, caring person with beautiful handwriting and a sense of humor that couldn’t be dampened, his family says.

As a child, Johnson was the one who kept his siblings entertained. Using his vivid imagination he would come up with new games for them to play. He was the one who taught his sister, Janell, to swim. She said he would come home from his swim classes and teach her.

“The water’s nothing to be scared of,” he would tell her. “You just have to get in.”

He was that way with everything: always hungry to learn and eager to pass on what he’d been taught.

Anthony Johnson Jr.’s military record

Johnson followed in his father’s footsteps when he joined the Marine Corps. Seeing his photo in the house, in his dress blues, inspired him. Johnson wanted to be like his father, so he enlisted in 2011 and was assigned to combat logistics.

His family said he was proud to be a Marine. But it was during his service in the military that he began developing schizophrenia.

Johnson’s mother, Jacqualyne Johnson, told the Star-Telegram that shortly before his discharge in 2013 she got a call from a sergeant in San Diego. Anthony had climbed a tree and wouldn’t come down. They asked her to help them talk him down from the tree.

When he returned home from his discharge, though, Johnson didn’t adopt the personality of someone who had been defeated. He wasn’t ashamed to talk about his diagnosis and was serious about taking proper care of his mental health, she said.

Johnson took his medication like he was supposed to, Janell said, and paid close attention to his mental health. Almost always an optimist, he wasn’t going to let it stop him from living a full life and being present and caring for his family.

He took his role as an uncle to Janell’s son seriously. He would help her care for him and teach him. Just as when they were kids, Johnson would come up with new games to play and let his nephew know he shared interests with him, from TV shows and movies to activities.

When on April 19 he started showing signs of a schizophrenic episode, his mother talked him into realizing what was going on. He asked her to take him to a mental health hospital where he’d been before.

“We took him to a facility and they rejected him,” Jacqualyne said. “Had they held him for 24 hours, 24 hours, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The family told the Star-Telegram they took Johnson to WellBridge Healthcare, a Fort Worth mental health hospital, but he was turned away. According to the family, the hospital told them Johnson could not be admitted because he was not violent toward himself or others.

WellBridge declined to comment on whether Johnson was ever a patient or on its policies for admitting patients who are experiencing a mental health crisis.

On April 20, Johnson called his family and told them he was doing better, his mother and sisters said.

The next day, two deputies and a chaplain visited his mother at her home and told her he’d died, but did not share any information on how.

The Sheriff’s Office had said only that Johnson refused to come out of his cell during a routine check for contraband, and jailers pepper-sprayed during an altercation.

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