UPDATE: Ralph E. Fernandez, an attorney for the family of Tamla Horsford, told Forsyth County News he has requested documents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Forsyth County Sheriff's Office and the Forsyth County District Attorney's Office related to the investigation and decision not to pursue charges.
Referring to the investigation, Fernandez said "this is never over," saying that homicide investigations can turn into cold cases but are not closed.
It appears there will be no criminal charges filed after Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials looked into the death of Tamla Horsford, a Black woman from Forsyth County and mother of six who died during a largely all-white adult overnight party in 2018.
Nelly Miles, a spokesman with the GBI, said the agency had conducted “a thorough investigation” into the case and had provided the findings to the office of Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn for any action, and Penn confirmed to the Forsyth County News no criminal charges would be filed and said Horsford’s death was a “tragic accident.”
“There was no evidence that anyone else was responsible for Mrs. Horsford’s death or that foul play was in any way involved,” Penn said in a statement. “The facts overwhelmingly indicated that she died as the result of a tragic accident. Therefore, that concludes this office’s involvement in the matter.”
The GBI agreed to investigate the case in July 2020 at the request of Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman, who asked the agency “to review previous findings and to search and act on any new evidence which may come to light."
“I appreciate the professionalism of the Georgia Bureau of Investigations in completing a thorough investigation of the tragic death of Mrs. Horsford,” Freeman said in a statement. “Their findings parallel those of the initial Sheriff’s Office findings of an accidental death. None of this can remedy the loss of a mother and loved one. Our sympathies remain with those who suffered this tragedy.”
In February 2019, FCSO investigators said Horsford’s death was caused by an accidental fall and “No evidence or injury patterns indicative of an assault or foul play were noted.”
Freeman's letter to the GBI, which he posted on the FCSO's Facebook page, came 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 in June 2020 alongside those with the names of Black Americans recently killed by police. Celebrities like T.I. and 50 Cent posted about Horsford on social media, calling for a new investigation into her death. Over 700,000 people signed a petition on Change.org wanting Horsford's case reopened.
In addition, an attorney for the Horsford family, Ralph E. Fernandez, previously said at the time there was "a strong possibility" that Horsford's death was a homicide after his office reviewed the case.
In a letter sent to Horsford’s husband, Leander, on June 5, 2020, 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.
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.
According to the GBI Medical Examiners Report in 2019, Horsford had severe injuries to her head, neck, and torso. There were cuts to her face, wrist, hand, and lower legs. Horsford also had a “laceration to the right ventricle” of her heart.
The 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.”
Christian resigned his position with the sheriff’s office in October amid an internal investigation that found he had shared sensitive information with a woman he was in contact with.
That investigation found 26 emails containing sensitive information sent by Christian between May 2019 and September 2020, including several where Christian noted he was not supposed to share the information.
Previous reporting by the Forsyth County News contributed to this story.