Case #8: Tamla Horsford

This case has often been compared on social media to the case of Kendrick Johnson, which this blog covered in this post. Both cases concern the mysterious death of a black person in an all-white or predominately white community, and both cases are under intense public scrutiny by those who believe justice was not served, which includes the families of both of these victims. Here is the tragic, strange, and not fully finished story of the death of Tamla Horsford.

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On November 3rd, 2018, 40-year-old Tamla Horsford of Cumming, Georgia, arrived at the home of her female friend, Jeanne Myers. Jeanne was hosting a sort of party/sleepover at her house, to celebrate a combination of the night’s LSU v Alabama football game and Jeanne’s 46th birthday. The party was made up of Jeanne, Tamla, six other female friends, Jeanne’s boyfriend Jose, and two other male friends. Tamla was the only non-white woman at the party.

The night seemed to go well. The guests were drinking, hanging out, watching the football game and having a nice time together. Photos and videos posted on social media from the party depict a happy if not slightly rowdy scene, with the female guests in pajamas and sitting together on the living room couch. Tamla was drinking a bottle of tequila she had brought, and the rest of the guests were similarly drinking liquor.

According to guests at the party, Tamla was the only one of the group who smoked (cigarettes and marijuana). So as not to disturb the rest of the group, guests said that Tamla would go out onto the back porch throughout the night to smoke. In fact, that’s where she was by the time one of the guests, a woman who had not planned to sleep over, left the house to drive home. This guest saw Tamla on the porch before she left the driveway, around 1:50 AM. The Myer’s home security system, which alerted Jeanne’s cell phone whenever an external door opened, reported that the back door opened at 1:50 AM and was closed about a minute later. At 1:57 AM, the security system also reported the same door being opened, but there was never an alert that the door was ever closed.

Around 8:30 AM that morning, the 4th of November, Jeanne’s aunt who also lived in the house woke up early and headed downstairs to make some coffee. When she got to the ground floor, she saw something on the ground outside: a white pajama set with a black paw print pattern. When the aunt looked closer, she realized it was Tamla, face-down on the ground and unmoving. Jeanne was called right away.

Jeanne called 911 and, with the help of her boyfriend Jose, tells the operator that a friend of hers who stayed over the night before was on the ground outside and not moving. When the operator asks if Tamla is breathing, they both say they don’t know and haven’t checked. At one point in the call, Jose takes the phone, and tells the operator he sees a cut on Tamla’s right wrist. He tells the operator that he doesn’t know if the wound was self-inflicted, without any prompting of that question from the operator. The full recording of the 911 call is below.

Credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0iCOt8rw9g

Many people on social media and the Internet point to this 911 call as some of the first evidence of foul play in Tamla’s death. They say that the tones of voice of both Jeanne and Jose are strangely calm and almost casual in their telling of what happened, which is unexpected for two people who have a dead friend outside their home. People also point out that Jeanne sounded nervous, perhaps nervous for herself, and that she may have handed the phone off to her boyfriend out of panic.

When Forsynth County police arrive on the scene, they call back all of the guests from the party the night before and attempt to retrace everyone’s steps of the night. The statements of all 10 witnesses seemed to match up, and all of them stated that Tamla was incredibly friendly, outgoing, sweet, and “the life of the party”. No one mentioned any arguments or conflicts that occurred throughout the night, and everyone seemed in agreement that it had been a normal, fun time.

When police look at Tamla’s body at the Myer house, they notice that her right hand was at a forty-degree angle relative to her head, which conflicted with Jeanne and Jose’s statement that they found Tamla with her arms by her sides.

The initial autopsy of Tamla’s body found that she had sustained severe injuries to her head, neck, and torso. She had abrasions on her forehead, over her left eye, her nose, her right temple, and her chin. She had a fractured vertebrae, a dislocated wrist, and a laceration on her heart. A toxicology report showed Tamla had a blood alcohol level of .24 (nearly 3 times the legal limit), traces of THC from the marijuana, and traces of Xanax, most likely from her anti-anxiety medication. Investigators concluded that Tamla’s death had been an accident. They said that in her heavily intoxicated state, she must have fallen over the balcony of the back porch when she went out to smoke around 2 in the morning. The distance from the porch railing to the ground was 17 feet, 11 inches.

From the beginning, Tamla’s family and friends are suspicious of the police’s version of events. Her close friend Michelle Graves was one of the first people to go public with her doubts, taking to social media and local news organizations with her opinion of what happened: that her friend Tamla had been murdered. In an interview with WSBTV News, Michelle tells the interviewer that she just can’t believe that there wasn’t foul play involved. She mentioned the strangeness of the fact that no one saw or heard Tamla fall, even from such a height. She also mentions she finds it odd that no one in the house checked on Tamla when she didn’t come back inside after smoking, and the fact that, if Tamla truly had been incredibly drunk, how would she have even gotten herself up and over the railing of the balcony? Others also found it strange how Tamla’s body was found face-down, flat on the ground, if she really did tumble on accident off the balcony—wouldn’t the positioning look a lot different?

Michelle, in this same interview, goes on to criticize the Forsynth police’s investigation of her friend’s death. She tells the public that at first, when she contacted law enforcement with questions about Tamla, she was told by officials that Tamla’s cause of death had been alcohol poisoning, with no mention of any fall.

As Michelle gains more traction with the media, Jeanne Myers and her boyfriend Jose begin (according to their attorney) receiving death threats and other disturbing mail at their home. However, public suspicion of the couple only grows when it’s discovered that Jose, who was employed as a pre-trial services officer, used his position to obtain confidential court records from the investigation of Tamla’s death. Jose has since been fired from his position for abusing his power for personal reasons.

In February of 2019, the Forsynth police department declares the investigation of Tamla’s death to be finished, with it officially being declared an accidental death. That same month, Tamla’s family hires a private pathologist to conduct another, independent, autopsy.

In this second autopsy, the pathologist found several things that made the police’s story seem even more fishy. Tamla had suffered abrasions all over her body, not just her face, and, even more shockingly, had sustained injuries that occurred to her post-mortem. There was also no blood found around her body at the scene, which the pathologist used as evidence that Tamla, already deceased, could have been thrown off the balcony by someone else.

There’s other things, too. Like the fact that Forsynth County, Georgia, is an area with a viciously racist and even violent recent history. In the 1980’s, troops from the National Guard had to be called in for security during a civil rights march in the city of Cumming because white residents were attacking black marchers. Even today, many people from the area insist Cumming is what’s known as a “sundown town”: towns of primarily white citizens who actively work to keep people of color out, through discriminatory laws and often violence. The term originated in the 1950’s and 60’s, when such towns posted signs warning that black people were required to leave town property by the time the sun set.

The Horsford family and friends remain insistent that the death of their beloved Tamla was not an accident. There are too many strange variables: why were three men at the party that night, when it had been planned to be girls-only? How did no one in the house see or hear Tamla fall? How did she get those post-mortem injuries, and how did she get the pre-mortem ones (such as the laceration on her heart) from an accidental fall? And most of all, can it really be a coincidence, in a town like Cummings, in a country like the United States, that the only black woman at a party of white people ends up dead?

Tamla was a beautiful woman with so much left of her life ahead of her. She was a mother to five children, a step-mother to a daughter, and a wife to her husband. She was a daughter and a granddaughter. She was a person, one who didn’t deserve to suffer such a terrifying and tragic death.

Tamla’s case still needs help. It needs support from the public, the media, and people in power who may actually be able to change the status of the investigation. Below are links to the Facebook page the Horsford family set up in her memory, as well as the link to her family’s GoFundMe.

https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForTam/

https://www.gofundme.com/f/justice-for-tamla-horsford

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