Petitions spark action: GBI reopens investigation into Tamla Horsford’s suspicious sleepover death

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Protests and petitions in the midst of a resurged movement for law enforcement to reexamine what some are calling injustices have led the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to reopen an investigation into the death of a mother of five.

WSB-TV first reported on the suspicious death of Tamla Horsford in November 2018.

Horsford was found dead after an “adult slumber party" with several other local mothers. Investigators concluded that she accidentally fell off a house balcony while intoxicated, which killed her. But her friends and family have always disputed the results.

Horsford was found dead in the backyard of a home in Forsyth County, Georgia, around 9 a.m. on Nov. 4, 2018. The coroner’s death certificate listed Horsford’s death as an accident. The report said that a fall from a deck caused multiple blunt force injuries and “acute ethanol intoxication” was a contributing factor.

Horsford’s family hired another medical examiner who found extensive injuries all over her body.

“It’s impossible to get the injuries that she had from one fall,” Horsford’s best friend, Michelle Graves, told WSB-TV in an interview last year.

Graves said she believed there was “something awry with the story and with how [Horsford] lost her life."

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office announced last February they were closing the case because investigators had found no evidence of foul play in Horsford's death.

Since then, a petition to reopen the investigation has amassed more than 500,000 signatures.

In a letter to the Horsford family, obtained shared by WSB-TV, attorney Ralph Fernandez said his office has done an exhaustive review of the case and believes Horsford was killed.

“It appears Tamla was involved in a struggle. There were abrasions consistent with that scenario. There were parallel scratches to one arm. Since they were fresh, photos would not have proven recent use of defensive force,” the letter said. “There was one x-ray, yet the injury noted as the cause of death appears nowhere.”

The party was held at the home of a woman whose boyfriend, Jose Barrera, reportedly found Horsford dead, face down. Barrera called police to report her death.

Barrera, who worked for local courts, was fired for accessing documents related to the case, WSB-TV reported.

“Witness statements are in conflict. A potential subject handled the body as well as the evidence prior to law enforcement arriving. Evidence was disposed of and no inquiry followed," Fernandez wrote. "The scene was not preserved. A remarkable fact is that there were no photographs taken during the autopsy of Tamla’s body. This had to have been done at someone’s directive because such a practice is unheard of.”

Forsyth County, one of Georgia’s 10 most populous counties, is an area known for its tense racial history. In 1912, county leaders forced all of its black residents out of the area. Author Patrick Phillips, who moved to Forsyth County as a child in the late 1970s, said he noticed Ku Klux Klan rallies in the area. Robed members have been seen there as recently as the 1990s. In 1987, in the midst of civil rights demonstrations, Oprah Winfrey hosted a program spotlighting the county’s racial conflict. The county made headlines again in October 2016 when an elementary school staffer called Michelle Obama a “gorilla” on Facebook.

On Friday, WSB-TV obtained a letter that Forsyth County sheriff Ron Freeman wrote to GBI director Vic Reynolds. The letter states, “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 told Reynolds the sheriff’s office would assist in any way possible, and GBI agents will have “complete access” to the case file, office and deputies as well as Freeman’s “full cooperation.”

The GBI said they will open an investigation based on Freeman’s request.