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Mother of dead Texas prison guard wants to know how and why her son died

A guard looks on near the wall of a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas.
Richard Carson
A guard looks on near the wall of a prison unit in Huntsville, Texas.

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The family of the Texas prison guard who died Monday night in the line of duty want to know what happened to their son.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it can't say right now, as a criminal investigation continues.

Tammica Motley was told her son Jovian Motley died in an “incident” at Wainwright prison while working on a five-man extraction team. An extraction team removes an inmate from a cell. But Motley doesn't know anything more.

“You probably know as much as me right now,” she told TPR. “We aren’t getting any answers.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn't confirmed if he died at the hands of the inmate or for other medical issues during the extraction. If that is the case, his would be the first time since 2019 that a guard died at the hands of a prisoner.

Now Motley is demanding answers about how her 27-year old son Jovian died and questioning the decision makers that put him in the cell at Wainwright unit.

“My son worked a double that day. I don't know the protocol, but in my opinion, he shouldn't have been on an extraction team if he worked a double,” she said.

Extraction teams are often five men in full riot gear and can often involve violence.

Fifty five percent of Wainwright unit's positions are unfilled as of Sept. 30, and she said her son's death pulls the curtain back on the larger staffing issues.

“They are overworked, and there's not enough manpower,” she said.

She had asked her son to transfer out of the prison to one with better staffing. But he refused. He loved the job, wanted to make it a career and felt he could get more experience at Wainwright.

“He wanted to learn. He said, ‘I feel like I'm going to learn everything I need to learn here. I feel like this is where I need to be to learn,’ ” she said.

But now her son is gone.

The union representing Texas prison guards is calling for the death penalty in the killing, but they also aren’t saying if an inmate is responsible.

“It is a tragedy, and our prayers are with the family and coworkers. AFSCME Texas Correctional Council prays that the state will pursue the death penalty for this egregious act,” said Jeff Ormsby, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Texas Correctional Council, in an email.

TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier called Motley’s son a hero, as did Gov. Greg Abbott in statements. But the lack of transparency makes the kind words cold consolation for the mother who days later doesn't know how her son died.

News of the death was immediately warped by rumor and speculation online ahead of the official statement. Different names were published in private Facebook groups.

One former guard who asked TPR not to use his name said he had heard multiple and diverging narratives about what happened when Motley’s team entered a cell.

One story was that the young man ended up in a struggle, falling under his colleagues and the inmate, and in the melee the chin strap on his helmet choked him. In another, the inmate physically choked him to death.

“That’s the bad thing about TDCJ — rumors develop a life of their own, and it becomes difficult to determine facts from fiction,” he said.

Tammica Motley said she wants to see the video from the extraction for herself.

TDCJ has said it will make more details available as the investigation continues.

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Paul Flahive is the technology and entrepreneurship reporter for Texas Public Radio. He has worked in public media across the country, from Iowa City and Chicago to Anchorage and San Antonio.