‘Ranger Hatfield photographed the writing on the wall’

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“April 5-2-13” A large flower type pattern, to the right and below, three shapes on the wall, a spade, a star, and what appeared to be a nine.

Meridian, Bosque County, Tx – Ranger Jim Hatfield arrived at the County Jail about 1:30 p.m. on May 4, 2013, the day April Troyn, 36, died a questionable death by asphyxiation while in custody in a substandard jail. The confusion he found allowed officials to get by with the skin of their teeth instead of answering in court or facing sanctions in a state administrative hearing.

They will answer to the voters.

After he noticed her body prone on the floor, one arm thrust beneath the bars of a four by four foot entry “cage” inside the solid steel door, he saw two narrow strips of blanket she allegedly used to hang herself in a sitting position by tying a noose around her neck and leaning forward. On the table where they lay, he beheld a curious display written green ink. He later reported that he found no pen or pencil in the cell.

The symbols inscribed on a smooth portion of the concrete block wall are masonic in nature, from the ninth class of symbols, and have been often used by fighter pilots to mark the fuselages of their ships in World War One, Two, and subsequent conflicts.

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The name April, followed by the date 5-2-13, the date she was booked into the jail on an arrest warrant for an alleged offense of abandonment and/or endangerment of her son five months previously, and a diagram of a “flower, a spade, a star, and what appeared to be a 9.”

According to Hatfield’s narrative, “The star resembled the star Troyn has tattooed on the inside of her wrist.” There was the phrase written next to that, “BC will fuck you.”

Said her ex-mother-in-law Carolyn Jackson, a corrections officer retired from Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division at Gatesville, “That’s some kind of clique she was in out in Fresno, California, called the Bulldogs.” There is some evidence she is right. The Marine Corps’ VF-281, a squadron of 18 Corsair F4U aircraft, was formed in the Imperial Valley at the El Centro Marine Corps Air Station in 1943. Their mascot, a bulldog, is emblazoned on their shoulder patch.

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Other outlaw groups, including the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, have borrowed certain elements of their colors from the nose and fuselage art of aviation units.

Female inmates are not to be kept in this tiny lockup past the 48th hour, the standard time for their “magistration” by a Justice of the Peace or Municipal Judge, because according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, they cannot be segregated by sight and sound from male inmates. This stricture has been in place for at least five years.

The Commissioners’ Court and voters have rejected at least two schemes to finance the construction of a new jail. They vociferously reject the notion of going into debt for the purpose. The Court voted three to one against a revenue bond issue as an economic development project in 2010; the voters overwhelmingly rejected a bond issue in a general election later the same year.

Women are kept in a “female holding cell” located about 15 feet from a “booking cage” and the communications center for the Sheriff’s Office. If they don’t make bail, they are transferred to the McLennan County Jail at Waco, or the Hill County lockup in Hillsboro for a per diem figure.

Since her alleged suicide, one other female prisoner has taken her life by self strangulation.

Exactly when April Troyn lost her life and how that has been determined is a very complicated affair.

No one seems to be completely sure, and the record reflects the uncertainty.

But the story of her arrest on a warrant obtained five months following an incident involving one of her children is a complication in itself. 

The subseqent investigation is a collection of misadventures, miscommunication and the kind of evidentiary nightmare than can result when the scene of an investigation has been repeatedly violated by persons unauthorized to be there.

For instance, because a corrections officer named Richard Flood cut her body down, then the Meridian Chief of Police untied the noose around her neck, it caused a great deal of confusion for the Texas Ranger conducting the investigation. He spent at least three intense sessions with Jesse Johns, the lead jailer, trying to learn exactly how the narrow strip of blanket was affixed to the cross bars of the cage, then to the noose around Troyn’s neck.

According to his report, Jail Administrator Beth Braswell said the blanket “was looped through the metal cage and tied on the inside of the cell on one end. The other end of the blanket was tied around Troyn’s neck.” Meridian Police Chief Albert Biggs said he untied the blanket strips. When Hatfield found them, he “saw only creases in the blanket, no knots.”

Then there is the uncertainty over who exactly was the last to see her alive, and when.

Deputy Flood saw her on the floor covered with a blanket at 7 am; he assumed she was sleeping. Sally Hayworth, who shared the cell, saw the judge at 8:30 a.m., and jail staff released her at 8:45.

When she arrived at 6:45 am, she told Hatfield on the afternoon of May 4, Troyn said, “I am glad you are here. I was about to hang myself.” Did she report that to jail staff? No. Hayworth told him she had known Troyn for “three or four years, that she would “talk shit,” looking for attention. When Hatfield visited her at her home, he found Hayworth in a drunken condition, evidenced by the odor of alcohol on her breath, an “unsteady balance,” and he noted “her speech was slurred.” She was unaware that Troyn was dead.

During medical screening on her book-in the previous day, May 3, Troyn told Jailer Johns that in the past she had attempted suicide over a stillborn child. Johns said he did not place her in the “detox” cell in front of the booking desk for observation as frequently as every 15 minutes because a lot of people say they have in the past attempted suicide who have no such intentions at the time of their examination. He noted no “indications of intentions to harm herself.”

Hatfield found her body cold to the touch, with a dark purple bruise on the right side of the neck “extending from front to right side to back of neck.” He photographed the tiny hemorrhages in her eyes known as petechiae that occur when a person is strangled.

Johns’ working partner, Richard Flood, said he opened the outer door to the holding cell at 11:15 and saw her sitting with her back to the cage’s bars, and he realized she had hanged herself. And yet Jailer Johns checked the security of the jail at 11:15 a.m. and noted “everything was as it should be.”

When he opened the door at 11:40 to serve her lunch, he found her unresponsive, according to his statements and the record.

Opening the door is important because the small window in its solid structure is masked by a piece of paper to keep male inmates from peeping in at the females.

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Somehow, between 8:30 a.m. and 11:40 a.m., April Troyn managed to strangle herself with a narrow strip of blanket, her body cooled to the point it was cold to the touch, and was noticeably stiffened due to the early stages of the decomposition of muscle and joint tissue. Bodies cool at the rate of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit per hour; stiffening of muscle and joint tissue does not occur for a minimum of two hours.

In the laconic tradition of Texas Rangers’ reports, Hatfield makes no mention of these seeming conundrums. He merely states the sequence of events as clearly as possible. 

The Bosque County Grand Jury later decided there had been no probable cause of a criminal violation. They chose not to return an indictment or conduct further investigation.

This is the time line as reported by Ranger Hatfield:

Time Line: Booked in 5/2/13 at 11:29 a.m. outstanding warrant from P.D. Abandoning/endangering a child warrant F02130045, Magistrates warning 5/3/13 at 9:05 a.m. Removed from cell at 10:25 for phone call, record someone reached at 10:30 a.m. Sally Hayworth placed in cell at 6:45 a.m. Johns and Flood arrive and everything secure at that time.

Timeline continued: 05-04-13 at 8:30 am, Hayworth was removed from the female holding cell and given her Magistrates Warning by Municipal Judge Paul Phillips. 05-04-2013 at 8:45 am, Hayworth is released from the Bosque County Jail. 05-04-2013 at 11:15 am, Jailer Johns checks the security of the jail and everthing is as it should be. 05-04-2013 a 11:40 am Jailer Johns begins to serve lunch. Jailer Johns opened the door to the female holding cell and found Troyn unresponsive and lying on the floor. Jailer Johns called for assistance and Jailer Flood responded. EMS was called to the jail and the jailer attempted CPR on Troyn. End of Timeline.” A copy of video surveillance dated 5/4/13 covers “from the jail booking desk down the hall which has the female cell. The female cell is located on the right side of the video, but the doorway is covered by the metal mesh cage where the jailer sits at the booking desk…The recording was recorded upside down, and backward making it difficult to watch. Because the camera is motion activated, “This setting on the camera is what made the video appear jumpy.” Video recording from the hard drive is not upside down and backwards, so it’s not hard to watch.

On the video recording, Ranger Hatfield reviewed nobody was seen entering the female cell prior to Jailer Johns serving lunch.

Troyn’s family members added to the confusion when they sought the advice of counsel. Her husband, Jonathan Richardson, and her mother-in-law Carolyn Jackson, made an appointment with a Waco attorney, but when they arrived, they learned her two sisters and her mother had made a previous visit. During that time, the legal staff gave them advice and conducted an extensive interview under the impression they were plaintiffs.

When the mistake was discovered, the law firm was forced to tell the husband and the mother-in-law they could be of no help because of ethics considerations of having consulted with one party, the preclusion of representing the other.

They arranged for representation by another law firm, but learned after the Rangers’ investigation was completed on June 27, 2014 more than a year after the death, that the attorney had not filed any instrument of suit and had elected to bow out of the litigation due to the impending expiration of the two-year statute of limitations.

During this time, a sister of April Troyn’s named Christina Morgan and her husband Russell gained custody of her two sons following an arrest and conviction for possession of methamphetamine for distribution.

They are now facing indictment, the husband for two charges involving violations of the state Water Code involving an illegal discharge.

Indictments against Christina Morgan are sealed, according to staff at the 220th District Clerk’s Office. They are prohibited by court order to reveal the specific charges.

In the middle of all this, Bosque County Commissioners are struggling to reach a solution for compliance with Jail Standards.

Said County Judge Dewey Ratliff, following a workshop session with a jail architect, construction manager, and finance managers, an estimate for a 64-bed “bare bones” jail that would comply calls for an estimated $10 million in debt.

That disappoints me.”

He and his colleagues are shooting for an $8 million project. Any design, whether it be for less or more, must be expandable to the next increment of approved bed space. For instance, the 64-bed design must be expandable to 96 bunks; a 48-bed design must be expandable to 54 beds.

All infrastructure as to plumbing, electronic alarms, electrical service and security must be in place.

Even then, the full capacity must not be used. Regulation calls for a 10 percent reserve in population. On top of that regulation, inmates must be classified into three categories – non-violent, somewhat violent, and outrightly violent offenders. They may not be mingled, one category with the other.

The reason for his concern is plain enough. “For a 64-bed capacity, we can only house 48.

I like that kind of just-in-case planning,” he sighs. “We’re building a 64-bed jail, but can only house 48.”

The same goes for option two. A 45-bed jail could only house 40 prisoners.

His conclusion: “I’m not going to allow any state agency to dictate to the voters what they will or will not spend.”

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