A Mentally Ill Prisoner's Family Is Suing Tarrant County over His Jail-House Murder

Jonathan Holden's sister claims mismanagement in a Tarrant County jail lead to his murder.
Jonathan Holden's sister claims mismanagement in a Tarrant County jail lead to his murder.
Brandon Thibodeaux

Jonathan Holden did not meet a good end. He suffered from psychotic episodes, delusions and paranoid schizophrenia. He used meth. About two years ago, because he broke into a car to escape a cold night, he found himself in a high-risk unit of a jail in Fort Worth. One day, while Holden was in his single-man cell, another inmate was outside his.

See also: Imaginary Monsters Chased Jonny Holden All His Life, Then a Real One Caught Him A Sister Goes to Meet Her Brother's Killer, and an Inmate Tells of Watching Him Die

Steven Lawayne Nelson was on his one-hour rotation, a time when one inmate is allowed to walk around the jail floor while the others are confined. Authorities say Nelson, who is now on death row for killing a preacher, was violent and often threatened his girlfriend's life. With a broomstick, he prodded Holden through the bars, then told Holden he could help him stage a fake suicide attempt, which would get Holden out of the unit. Holden approached the bars.

The guard on duty had left the area. Holden put his back against the bars, an eyewitness would later testify. Nelson wrapped a blanket around his neck and pulled. Holden died the next day; he was buried soon after. His sister, whom he had been living with before his arrest, didn't find out her brother's fate until months later.

In March, the sister, Jennifer Ciravolo, sued Tarrant County for the death of her brother. She claims that because of Holden's condition he needed to be away from most prisoners, under the supervision of mental health doctors. She also claims that jail administrators knew this but failed to protect Holden's life.

In 2012, after Holden was booked in, a doctor evaluated him, saying he wasn't suicidal and recommending he be placed in a unit with single-man cells and nonviolent inmates. He was also placed under mental health observation.

Before the recommendation to be with nonviolent inmates, though, Holden had punched a guard, according to the county's response to Ciravolo's complaint. The punch was enough for him to be classified as "assaultive." Holden was soon assigned to the Belknap Unit, which had single-man cells.

The unit also housed, Ciravolo claims, "a violent, high-risk, physically superior, mentally unstable and schizophrenic sociopath who was ... allowed to roam outside of his cell unsupervised while armed with various weapons."

After his death, the county claims, jail officials tried to get in touch with his family for a month but were unsuccessful. No one visited Holden during the nearly two weeks he was locked up. Also, Holden didn't indicate any next of kin when he was booked in, making the search more difficult.

Ciravolo claims the jail officials did know Holden had a sister and did not inform her of his death. She wants to exhume his body and move it to the family plot in Oklahoma.

In June, the county requested the case be dismissed. That was denied. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Tarrant County commissioners met in an executive session Tuesday and could reach a settlement soon.

The lawyer for Tarrant County declined to comment, and the lawyer for Ciravolo did not return a request for comment. Send your story tips to the author, Sky Chadde.

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