Kyle is a small Texas suburb just south of Austin, so when people started talking about a shooting at a local hospital involving a corrections officer and an inmate from the county jail, word got around quickly.
Joshua Wright, 36, was being held before trial on charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He was getting medical treatment Dec. 12 when he was shot and killed by a Hays County corrections officer.
Isaiah Garcia said he shot Wright in self defense. The sheriff’s office released a statement saying Wright had assaulted Garcia, attempted to escape custody and ran through the emergency room.
But the family’s attorney, Chevo Pastrano, said an autopsy requested by the family tells a different story.
Pastrano said it showed Wright had his ankles shackled and that he was shot at least six times from behind. One of the bullets, he said, probably paralyzed Wright, yet the officer continued to shoot him.
KUT was unable to see a copy of the autopsy.
Wright’s family questioned why anyone would have to use deadly force on Joshua, whom they described as being a “big teddy bear.”
“He struggled with a lot of things. He wasn’t perfect, but he was my son,” Beverly Wright said at a news conference in January.
The family launched a campaign with local advocates and nationally renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump to get body-cam footage released.
“If it was his fault, I can accept it, but show us the video,” his mother said.
Crump — who has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — says excessive use of force by officers is a systemic national issue.
“Why is it OK to shoot Black and brown people in the back, but you can pause and use your training and de-escalation when it’s a white person running away?” he said at the January news conference. “You don’t shoot them in the back, even when they’re storming the Capitol.”
Wright’s older sister, Adrian, told KUT she was shocked to learn Garcia returned to work a few weeks after killing her brother.
“People are losing their family members in such excessive and horrific ways,” she said. “And then there’s nothing.”
A private family goes public
Shortly after Joshua’s death, Adrian began hearing a different version of what happened. After all, she said, there were over 30 witnesses.
“People know people,” she said. “We were already getting these accounts of ‘No, that’s not the way it happened.’ ‘Josh was not doing what they said he was doing.'”
Adrian said she felt frustrated by a lack of communication from the sheriff’s office and the upsetting picture painted of her brother — including allegations that he tried to grab a weapon.
“My brother was so young,” Adrian said. “He was full of life, he was a great person … and he was still trying to figure out his purpose in this world.”
Adrian said being thrust into the spotlight has been difficult to navigate — between organizing marches, protests and press conferences.
“We were kind of a private family, just hardworking people,” she said. “Go to work, go home, and kind of just survive in this world, you know? And then this happens.”
The family had a conversation about taking their story public and speaking up about Joshua’s death. When seeking answers, Adrian said, you have to put yourself out there to get the help you need.
The family has been leaning on their faith and each other to get through this difficult time, especially as they help support Joshua’s 13-year-old daughter. Adrian said fighting a fight that goes beyond Joshua has been hard, but it’s been even harder finding time to grieve.
“It comes in waves,” she said. “When I’m thinking about my brother and how special he was to us … and not even knowing how his final time was.”
Adrian said she believes her family won’t have peace until officials reveal what happened. Surely, she said, the officer’s body-cam footage could shed some light on Joshua’s death.
“If it was my brother that was the aggressor, show us that he was the aggressor,” Adrian said. “Show us that he deserved to die in that manner.”
A day after the shooting, Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra asked the sheriff’s office to release all footage from the incident within 10 days. He said it would clear up differing witness accounts and help regain public trust.
The sheriff’s office didn’t follow his advice.
But a grand jury got to see video evidence, and it indicted Garcia last week. He was charged with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony that could result in two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
In a statement released Monday, the family said they are relieved.
Garcia surrendered to authorities and was released on a $20,000 bond. Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler said he is no longer employed with his office.
The DA’s office said the body-cam video of Joshua’s death would not be released publicly until Garcia’s trial. At this time, it’s unclear whether the family has seen the footage.
Crump and Pastrano released a statement Monday saying they will continue to support the Wright family through the legal process.
“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,” Crump said.