Criminal Justice

Family of dead Texas prison guard left with more questions after meeting with state officials

On Monday, the family was shown video footage of the incident that led up to the death of Jovian Motley in Wainwright prison. However, their attorney says the footage was “highly obstructed.”

The parents of Jovian Motley.
Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
The parents of Jovian Motley, who died on Nov. 13 after restraining an incarcerated person within a cell at Wainwright prison. Motley’s family viewed video footage of the incident on Dec. 4, 2023.

The family of a Texas prison guard who died last month while on duty is pushing for accountability after a meeting with state law enforcement officials on Monday provided more questions than answers.

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 27-year-old Jovian Motley died on Nov. 13 after working on a five-man extraction team tasked with restraining an incarcerated person within a cell at Wainwright prison, located about 100 miles north of Houston. Details surrounding the exact cause of Motley's death are murky. TDCJ says the incident is at the center of an ongoing criminal investigation.

During the Monday morning meeting with TDCJ officials, Motley’s family was shown video footage of the events that took place in that cell — a moment that his family has been waiting for since Jovian’s death last month. However, according to Tammica Motley, Jovian's mother, the video left a lot to be desired.

“As a mother, I’m not satisfied,” Motley said. “I still feel that I’m at square one. I still feel that we do not have the answers that we need.”

Attorney Justin Moore, who joined the family during Monday’s meeting, said the video that was shown was “highly obstructed” and it appeared that the cell that Jovian entered was “pitch black.”

“We definitely need more video, we need more evidence and we need a full discovery process to understand the nature of what happened,” Moore said. “We don’t know why the five-man extraction team was truly called.”

Moore added that charges may be filed against a “young man” in relation to the criminal investigation, but the attorney didn’t elaborate if he was referring to the person who was held inside the cell where the incident took place. However, Moore instead took aim at the policies and procedures implemented by the TDCJ that he says contributed to Jovian’s death.

“We believe what happened to Jovian was due to the fact that there is gross negligence in how that prison is being ran,” Moore said. “Jovian Motley was called into a cell and was led to his death by the prison that he worked for.”

As of Monday afternoon, no lawsuit had been filed. According to Amanda Hernandez, TDCJ’s director of communications, the video of the incident was shown to the Motley family “out of consideration for the family and in efforts to provide transparency into the tragedy.”

Hernandez added that the state agency is currently “evaluating the policies surrounding inmate extractions.”

After Monday’s meeting, the family said they’ll keep pushing for answers in an effort to keep Jovian’s memory alive.

"That was my twin…Everything about him was me,” said Edward Motley, Jovian's father. “I miss him. That was my friend."