I often think “what if” while reviewing Amanda’s case. From the events that occurred in the 24 hours surrounding her anoxic brain injury, inconsistent witness statements, to the fabrications in the lead detective’s report and the multiple Grayson County law officials that stand behind his investigation, I wonder if one person would have considered her death as something other than suicide, would there have been a different outcome. What if one law official would have challenged the detective’s opinion of this case? What if there is just as much evidence, if not more, of homicide as there was to his suicide ruling? I have a lot of questions, and even meeting with the new sheriff and chief of police in Sherman, I still don’t have any answers.
What if I would have answered her phone call that morning she made from an unknown number? What if she would have answered when I called her back instead of receiving her text message, “I got it. Tell Jordan I love him and will call him tonight”? Maybe she would have told me that she needed help; that her life was threatened and I could have saved her. What DID NOT happen is what the detective wrote in report concerning Amanda and my communication that day:
-“Mullins said that Amanda called her about 1530 hours today wanting her to come and get her. Mullins said that Amanda had “burned her bridges” with most of her friends and family due to her substance abuse and relationship with Espana. Mullins said that she told Amanda that she could not help her and believes that she attempted suicide out of desperation.”
If Amanda said she needed me to come and get her that day, I would have been there. I did not talk to her that day, only voicemail for Amber’s phone number and a text for Jordan. She had called 3 people that morning to get her best friend’s number. I found out later it was because she needed a ride out of town and a place to stay because she was afraid he would choke and kill her. The phone calls started around 10:30 am for Amber’s number; they finally spoke at 5:20 pm, with arrangements being made.
What if Amanda had not told two different people on May 14, 2015 that she had to be out of her house by 7:00 pm, or Brayan would kill her? If I did not know that for certain, then I would be more likely to accept the detective’s opinion. The fact is, she did tell two different people; the last person, Amber, was at 5:20 pm, which was witnessed by Amanda’s neighbor. That was 40 minutes prior to Brayan arriving home at 6:00 pm. The assistant chief of police at the time, Stephen Dean wants me to believe that threats to her life were “….theories…voiced by uninvolved and/or misinformed individuals which may have caused confusion and concerns for Pierce’s death.” He wants to call facts (actual witnessed statements) from involved individuals (witnesses to threats of murder) theories (an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events). This was not a set of ideas to try and explain what happened to her, this ACTUALLY happened.
What if Brayan’s arrival time home had been questioned when he changed it from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm? He told two responding officers he got home around 6:00 pm. The guy that lived in the house with them also said Brayan got home around 6:00 pm and that time never changed from interview to interview, even days later. When Detective Jeff Jones asked Brayan what time he got home in an audio-recorded interview later that evening, Brayan asked what time did I call 9-1-1? He was allowed to look at his phone and respond 7:00 pm. This time discrepancy has been of no importance to anyone. It matters!
• Officer 1 report – “Bryan returned home from work at 1800”; “At approximately 1800 hours, David heard Bryan come inside the residence”
• Officer 2 report—“When he arrived home from work sometime after 1800 hours….”
When we asked Chief Flores about this, he stated:
• as far as that’s concerned, should he have reviewed their reports and went and talked to them once he done it, yes. That would have been the investigative best practices. Did he? Apparently not.
• So one of the problems with this, I’ll tell you from an investigative stand point is that multiple people talked to Brayan before we got to that point of him talking to Detective Jones. He spoke with Officer Dutton, Officer Aviles—that didn’t need to happen. Just to be honest with you because he should have spoke to one. It creates this opportunity for doubt to creep in, OK, learning from mistakes—That was a mistake and shouldn’t have happened. He should not been allowed to talk to multiple different officers because then you get multiple different officers putting 3 different things. We want one story at one time because then we can hold people accountable to the things they say. It’s critical to get one story.
• There are things in Detective Jones investigation that fell short of what I would consider best practice for investigator, ok, I will admit that.
Is it against procedure or best investigative practices for responding officers to ask witnesses questions before a detective arrives on scene? Brayan gave the same story to 2 responding officer and a different story to Jeff Jones.
What if Detective Jeff Jones had not added an extra stop in Brayan’s drive home that does not exist in his audio interview, only in his written report? Brayan told the detective that he left work (clocked out at 5:09 pm), stopped by gas station on 75/82, got on highway 75 south, and went home (Lamar St.). In the written report, the statement “hung out with some friends” was added after he left work. Why did the detective feel the need to add that? It never happened according to his only recorded interview with Jones. That would make his arrival time home at 6:00 pm more reasonable, as he stated to responding officers; as well as the housemates statement of 6:00 pm.
What if the domestic violence history and the two outstanding warrants related to a previous assault on Amanda in 2014 were considered? We received a personal phone call during our 2 hour drive to the hospital from a responding officer at the scene. This officer was an acquaintance of ours who we had reached out to previously about the domestic violence history between Brayan and Amanda. He was aware of the abuse and the two outstanding warrants. We had asked for help to get him picked up so we could help her. Following are references to this knowledge:
• “Corporal ..…advised that he was calling because he was familiar with the family and had been told of past abuse between Amanda Pierce who attempted suicide and her boyfriend Brayan Espana. (Jones report)
• “I contacted Corporal….. and asked him to make contact with the family since he has a relationship with them. He later called and advised that he had made contact and they were on their way to the hospital.” (Jones report)
• “Cpl ……. informed me that he had received complaints from Pierces’ family of possible abuse between the two. Detective Jones said he would respond.” (responding officer’s report)
Jones explained to us more than once he was not aware of DV history or outstanding warrants the night of Amanda’s brain injury, yet it is written in his report that the corporal told him. He stated that when he ran Brayan’s name, warrants did not show up. How is it that I can run Brayan’s name on the Grayson County criminal records search and see his record for the past 10 years in this county alone and CID can’t?
I asked Chief Flores and Assistant Chief Jason Jeffcoat what the Sherman PD’s protocol was on responding to a possible domestic violence related call. If someone like this officer tells Jones there’s a history of DV, should it automatically be looked at and questioned, maybe rule out homicide; especially if there’s DV involved? This was their answer basically:
-Again, any death is a death, ok, short of effort. You can even have a note, someone else could have wrote that note, so you have to have a suspicious mind in any death. That is the protocol. It should be entered into as suspicious. Now state laws tells us how we’re gonna handle most domestic violence situations. That if you have probable cause to believe that it happened, which means you have evidence to lead you that way, that you make an arrest, even if it ends up in a _??__. If an officer would have responded to that and she would have had red marks on her chest, he’d gone to jail that night. I’m not saying Detective Jones practices were best. I can’t sit here and defend all his investigation.
“state laws tells us how we’re gonna handle most domestic violence situations”
–”Art. 5.04. DUTIES OF PEACE OFFICERS. (a) The primary duties of a peace officer who investigates a family violence allegation or who responds to a disturbance call that may involve family violence are to protect any potential victim of family violence, enforce the law of this state, enforce a protective order from another jurisdiction as provided by Chapter 88, Family Code, and make lawful arrests of violators.”
“…probable cause to believe that it happened…” probable cause is a Legal standard by which a police officer has the right to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or obtain a warrant for arrest.
Brayan had two outstanding warrants. There was documented history of domestic violence between Brayan and Amanda, as well as another family violence charge years prior to Amanda meeting him. At least one officer spoke to the next door neighbor that night, who gave the following statement about having to be out of the house by 7:00 pm:
“At approximately 1715 hours, Amanda went over to (neighbor’s) house and used her cell phone. (Neighbor) gave the phone to Amanda. (Neighbor) followed Amanda outside, while Amanda was on the phone. (Neighbor) over heard Amanda saying, ‘you need to come and get me, I need to be out of this house by seven tonight’, Amanda then returned the phone back to (neighbor). When Amanda returned the phone, (neighbor) saw bruises on Amanda’s chest. (Neighbor) asked Amanda about the bruises. Amanda told (neighbor), ‘I was used as a punching bag a couple of days ago.’ Amanda went back to her residence.”
Detective Jones restates this witness statement on the first page of his written report. He also interviewed this neighbor on 5/20/2015 via phone. She told him the same story, as well as information about the past abuse by Brayan.
With all this information available at the scene, what more would be needed for probable cause?
What if the fact that Brayan and Amanda HAD gotten into an argument the night before? The responding officer’s statement when he spoke to Brayan immediately after, “He last spoke with Amanda the morning of 5-14-2015 before he left for work. He said they had not been arguing and as far as he knew, Amanda appeared alright.” When Detective Jones asked him what happened, and asked “him to start with the day before, leading up to when police arrived.” Statement of Brayan’s response (there are some inconsistencies from what Brayan actually said to what the detective wrote in statement):
“He said that Amanda had a drinking problem and she drinks all the time. He went to work at Starr Aircraft on Wednesday and when he came home, Amanda was depressed and had been drinking. She wanted a tattoo on her arm with a cross with names and dates of her family members who had been killed. Espana said that in 2009 Amanda’s sister was beaten to death by her boyfriend and when her mom went to check on her, the boyfriend beat Amanda’s mother to death as well. Amanda had also lost her father to cancer.”
“……He said she used to be a hairstylist, but could not keep a job and recently began working at Royal Case. He said that he went to bed last night and Amanda did not want to go to bed with him. She remained on the couch drinking. He awoke at 0400 and tried to get her to go to bed, but she did not….”
“When he walked out of the door for work, Amanda yelled for his name twice and he came back into the room. She asked if he had his lunch and he told her that he would get something later. She told him to have a good day and he left.”
Witnesses came forward in the days following and gave a different account than Brayan’s of the 24 hours leading up to her brain injury:
• “Brinlee said that Amanda told her that they had gotten into a fight because she did not go(t) to work that day.” (She actually told him also it was because Brayan stole $100 of her money and he told her to move out of the house)
• “Phone call to her ex-husband….at 10:39 am asking for Amber’s number because they had been in an argument because she did not go to work. Brayan stole $100 from her and told her that she needed to be out of the house by 7.”
• “On 5-21-15 at 1013 hours, I received a call from (ex-husband). He said that Amanda called him on 5-14-15 at 1039 hours from…. She was wanting Brinlee’s phone number. She said ‘You’ll never believe this. Brayan stole $100.00 from me. We had an argument and he told me that I needed to be out by 7.’”
What if the bag downstairs by the front door was considered a “packed bag” and not a “lunch bag” by Detective Jeff Jones? One fact we took to Detective Jones on our 5/19/15 meeting is that her overnight bag was downstairs by the front door. He immediately dismissed our concern and said that it was her “lunch bag”. This bag contained personal items: hair supplies, make up, Bible, photos of her children, jewelry, lotion, and personal papers and letters. I was taken aback by his response. He stated that he interviewed the HR director and co-workers and they stated she carried that bag to work every day. The audio-recording of the meeting with her HR director does not reflect that question being asked, nor did he talk to any co-workers during this meeting at Royal Case. She also walked 10 blocks to work in all weather conditions. Having concluded this was not a “packed bag”, he said there was no indication she was trying to leave. Another bag upstairs (shown in police evidence photos) contained her clothes.
What if Detective Jeff Jones had spoken to Dr. Jill Urban and “discussed in detail” as he reported in his written report? What if “blinders” weren’t put on when Amanda’s body went for autopsy? Jones report: “On 5-21-15, SWIFS assigned case…… At 1445 hours, I spoke with medical examiner Dr. Jill Urban. I discussed in detail the investigation and she advised that based on the information provided and her autopsy that her official ruling was ‘a suicide’.” We (Justin and I) spoke to Dr. Urban on 5-22-15 around noon, and she was unaware of any other circumstances than female, possible suicide by hanging. That’s almost 24 hours after Jones states he spoke to her “in detail”.
When I asked Chief Flores and Jeffcoat about this, this is what they said:
-“Typically, any body that goes down, they are given a small picture. These are the circumstances surrounding it, keep a 30,000 feet level. We don’t want to give up anything to give them a biased opinion.”
Well, gentleman, sending the message “possible suicide by hanging” with her body is quite biased. Blinders are immediately placed on anyone looking at this case from the police department to the medical examiner.
What if Brayan’s actions in the days following Amanda’s hospitalization were considered suspicious? For someone whose girlfriend was in the hospital on life support for a traumatic brain injury, he did not act like a caring and concerning boyfriend. He gets in his car 3 days after the incident with only an envelope in his hands, and drives away. He left everything else he owned in the apartment. Also, he turned off his cell phone 4 days later even though the bill had been paid in full on May 14, 2015. No one has seen him since and it’s been over 2 years.
What if Amanda would have just left Brayan or called police each time he was beating her? Looking back, I was very upset that she put herself in that environment and wouldn’t leave. Knowing now what I’ve learned in the months following her death has been eye opening. Witness after witness came forward with the same theme, she was scared for her life and the life of her family. He threatened her life if she left, if she didn’t come back, or as in the case on 5/14/15, if she didn’t leave. He threatened to have her killed if she didn’t bail him out of jail after the 2014 assault. Here are a few statements taken directly from Jones’ report:
• “Brinlee told her (me) that Amanda called her to tell her that if she was not out of the house by 1900 that Espana was going to kill her”
• “Amanda told Brinlee that Espana put his hands around her neck one too many times. He told her to be out of the house by 7. I’m tired and I can’t take this any longer. If he chokes me again, he will probably kill me.”
• “Brinlee says that Amanda called her at 1715 hours saying that she was scared for her life and needed to get out of (t)he house by 7. She said she was scared to death that Brayan would choke and kill her because he had been choking her a lot lately and if he did it again, he would not let go.”
• “She (Maranda) said about 6 months ago Amanda called her asking her to come get her because Brayan was abusive.”
• “She said Amanda told her that Brayan was going to kill her and would not let her out of the house.”
• “When Williams told Amanda to call the police, Amanda told her that she did not want to call the police because Brayan would kill her or get someone to.”
• “She said after a few weeks, Amanda begged her to take her back to Brayan. Williams told her that she needed to stay with her. Amanda then told her that Brayan called and told her that he would kill her if she did not come back.”
• “Amanda told Williams that she was afraid that Brayan would also kill Williams and her family if she stayed with her.” This included my sister Vivian’s children because Maranda was their step mom.
• “(co-worker) said that Amanda told her that she felt trapped and could not leave Brayan and that Amanda told her that Brayan told her ‘I’ll kill you and get away with it and I’ll chop you up like your mom and sister were’”.
The detective’s attitude toward the violence is disturbing. He knew all of the above information before Amanda actually passed away. We also have reason to believe he had been made aware of the outstanding warrant for domestic violence. A couple statements from his report reflect his attitude toward the abuse Amanda endured:
• “Numerous assaults by Brayan in which only one of them was reported to the police on 05/25/2014. This was only due to an officer driving up as they were arguing in the street”.
• “I asked him (Dustin) why none of this had been reported to the police and he advised that Amanda did not want the police contacted.
I have so many “what if” questions….. I want answers to those! I’m not convinced that she took her life. What if he DID hurt her which ultimately led to her death 6 days later? What if he was serious about killing her if she did not leave the house at 7:00 pm on 5-14-2015? What if the lead detective would have taken that threat seriously? Would there have been a different outcome?