UPDATE (4:27 p.m.): The GBI has agreed to Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman's request to open an investigation into the November 2018 death of Tamla Horsford, according to Nelly Miles, public affairs director with the state agency.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman sent a letter to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Friday requesting the agency reopen the case of Tamla Horsford, the Forsyth County woman whose death during an adult overnight party
"Renewed requests for reexamination are best served by an independent law enforcement agency to review previous findings and to search and act on any new evidence which may come to light," Freeman wrote to GBI Director Vic Reynolds.
Freeman pledged to turn over the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office complete files on Horsford's death and fully cooperate with a GBI investigation.
"Your agents will have complete access to my office and Deputies," Freeman writes, "as well as my full cooperation."
Freeman's letter, which he posted on the FCSO's Facebook page, comes after nationwide protests against racial inequality brought renewed public interest in Horsford's death. Signs bearing Horsford's name were carried at protests in downtown Cumming alongside those with the names of Black Americans recently killed by police. Celebrities like T.I. and 50 Cent have posted about Horsford on social media, calling for a new investigation into her death. Over 586,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org wanting Horsford's case reopened.
In addition, an attorney for the Horsford family, Ralph E. Fernandez, said there is "a strong possibility" that Tamla's death was a homicide after his office reviewed the case.
In a letter sent to Horsford’s husband, Leander, on June 5, Fernandez said his office found conflicting witness statements, a tampered crime scene, mishandled evidence and “unheard of” absence of autopsy photos, while Horsford’s injuries were “consistent” with being in a physical struggle.
“The truth never had a chance here,” Fernandez wrote.
Horsford’s death on Nov. 4, 2018, was the subject of intense national interest.
According to FCSO reports, the 40-year-old arrived at a North Forsyth home around 10 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2018, to attend an overnight birthday party with 11 others. They drank “heavily,” watched football and played Cards Against Humanity.
While others went to bed, Horsford went out on the home’s back porch around 2 a.m. to smoke a cigarette, according to witnesses. The next morning, Horsford was found lying motionless under the porch in the residence’s back yard. The homeowner called 911 immediately after, according to authorities. Deputies arrived eight minutes later, at 9:07 a.m.
Horsford had severe injuries to her head, neck, and torso, according to the GBI Medical Examiners Report. There were cuts to her face, wrist, hand, and lower legs. Horsford also had a “laceration to the right ventricle” of her heart.
A GBI toxicology screening also showed an elevated blood alcohol level of .238, and detected traces of THC and the anxiety drug, Alprazolam, in Horsford’s system at the time of her death.
Investigators said that Horsford fell about 14 feet from the back porch and died on impact. Her death was classified as an accident.
Public skepticism began after investigators discovered one witness, Jose Barrera, who worked in the Forsyth County court system, used his position to access a report from the incident, an action that officials said was unethical and led to his firing.
After Barrera’s firing, interest in Horsford’s death skyrocketed online, with hundreds of people using the hashtag #tamlahorsford on social media and questioning different facets of the case.
Horsford’s family also questioned the FCSO's investigation, according to interviews with investigator Mike Christian.
“I want the truth of what’s going on, because I mean, the stories I’ve heard so far, none of them make sense,” Leander Horsford told Christian. “And if they don’t make sense, usually there’s a reason they don’t make sense.”
On Monday, June 8, the FCSO told the Forsyth County News that it “conducted a thorough and comprehensive investigation.”
“Evidence from the incident along with the findings from the Georgia Medical Examiner’s Office was utilized to come to the conclusion of the case,” the agency said in a statement. “At the request of the family, we took another look into the evidence and also had an independent agency, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, look over the findings. No additional information was found.
The agency added, “In a continued effort to remain transparent, we welcome any new information on the Tamla Horsford case. To date, we have received none. We’re prepared to have an independent investigative authority, such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, take over the case should new information be provided and reopen the investigation.”
Fernandez, the family’s attorney, said Horsford’s case “is not over.”
“It will never be over,” Fernandez wrote to Leander and the Horsford family. “Be safe. Be strong. We will get to the bottom of this.”
Previous reporting by the Forsyth County News contributed to this story.