ANGLETON — A former prison guard doesn’t believe he broke the law, but thinks about the situation that led to an inmate’s death daily, he told a Brazoria County jury.
Lou Thomas Joffrion III, 26, took the stand Friday in his first-degree felony assault trial. He was a sergeant at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Darrington Unit in Rosharon on Aug. 16, 2017, when he forced a handcuffed inmate to the ground, according to trial evidence. The force lacerated the liver of the inmate, 41-year-old David Witt, and caused his death, prosecutors say.
Joffrion was a respected correctional officer, defense attorney Connie Williams said in his opening statement Friday.
At the time Joffrion acted to control Witt, Joffrion only thought about putting him on the ground, which the law allows, Williams said.
“He wasn’t thinking about how much, how little, he just reacted,” Williams said. “He never, ever intended to hurt this man.”
Joffrion echoed those sentiments on the stand and said it wasn’t the first time he put Witt on the ground. In a previous incident, Witt was not handcuffed and Joffrion turned him to the side as he brought Witt to the ground, a surveillance video from 2016 played in court shows.
After that incident, Joffrion was disciplined for using his knee to strike Witt’s back, he said.
He tried to reason with Witt the day of Witt’s death by talking first, Joffrion said, but Witt did not comply.
“He’s dictating the pace of this whole situation,” Joffrion said of Witt.
Lt. Sule Igris testified Wednesday he told Joffrion to leave the room where Witt was being defiant because Witt became agitated at seeing Joffrion. Joffrion said he was never given that order.
“I’m 100 percent positive that this order never came up,” Joffrion said.
Joffrion was frustrated with Igris at the time, he said, claiming Igris was not doing enough to protect the other officers.
Igris was following Witt out of the day room when Witt knocked over a water cooler, the video shows.
“That’s destruction of state property,” Joffrion said.
The frustration with Igris is why Joffrion hit his fist into his hand and pushed Igris to get around him, Joffrion said, admitting the push was the first act of force when prosecutor Jack Choate asked.
Witt eventually complied and allowed another officer to handcuff him, but then turned away from the officers who were guiding him, the video shows. That is when Joffrion grabbed Witt’s legs, lifted him up and “placed” his front side to the concrete floor, he said.
“It was a reaction; because he reacts, I immediately react,” Joffrion said. “It’s not anything premeditated.”
“I know you like the word ‘place,’ but this isn’t placing someone on the ground, is it?” Choate said.
“That’s what we’re trained to say for report-writing purposes,” Joffrion said.
“You’re slamming him to the ground,” Choate said.
Witt was 5 feet, 11 inches tall and 128 pounds at the time of his death, Choate said. Joffrion said he did not know how badly Witt would be hurt.
Joffrion thinks about the situation every day and doesn’t want Witt’s family to think he singled out their loved one, he said.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation for both parties,” Joffrion said. “His family and me personally, my family.”
Witt was serving a 20-year prison sentence following a conviction of aggravated robbery and unauthorized use of a vehicle in 2007. He would have been eligible for parole in 2024, prosecutors said.
Attorneys began arguing their cases Tuesday after Joffrion pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors expect to make closing arguments Monday, when the trial resumes in the 239th District courtroom at Brazoria County Courthouse, 111 E. Locust St., Angleton. A jury of 11 women and two men, one who will serve as an alternate, will decide whether he is guilty.
Joffrion faces up to life in prison if convicted.