Elsa, Texas —Documents for what attorneys are calling an unlawful and horrific arrest that occurred in April are now being released to the public. The lawsuit was uploaded on October 5.
On April 12, 2020, deputies responded to a mobile home community in response to an unrelated disturbance.
As the deputies finished their investigation and were leaving the area, they spotted a Hispanic male, later identified as Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga, asleep in the yard of his friend’s home.
Zuniga had been invited to an Easter BBQ, became intoxicated, and fell asleep.
Attorney’s say what happened next is nothing short of a nightmare at the “hands of rogue deputies.”
Deputies stated that they went on to the property and tried to wake Zuniga. In the arrest affidavit, they stated that he finally awoke, resisted arrest, and was subsequently handcuffed and transported to jail.
However, the story deputies told did not match up with the injuries that Zuniga sustained during his unlawful arrest which ultimately led to his death at the age of 23.
According to the lawsuit, when the sheriff’s deputies arrived Zuniga was asleep in the yard of his friend’s house. The deputies approached Zuniga who was asleep and attempted to wake him up. When Zuniga awoke and deputies discovered he lived elsewhere, they told him to go home. Zuniga followed their commands and started to walk home when the deputies decided to arrest him for violating the emergency management order due to COVID-19 and public intoxication.
The State Attorney’s Office refused to prosecute and dropped the charges.
During his arrest, due to Zuniga being heavily intoxicated and not steady on his feet, deputies intentionally tripped Zuniga. When Zuniga got on his feet, another deputy tackled him. At that time, the deputies began to tase Zuniga multiple times. While on the ground, Zuniga’s neck was crushed and broken.
With a broken neck, deputies placed Zuniga in handcuffs and shackles. As he was being taken to the patrol car he was again intentionally tripped by one of the deputies. When he did not immediately get to his feet he was again tased.
Zuniga was unable to return to his feet and was physically placed in the patrol cars by the deputies.
Once at the jail, Zuniga could not hold his head up due to having a broken neck. Therefore, deputies held his head for him and continued with the booking process — including taking a booking photo in which you can see Zuniga’s head being held up by deputies.
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While at the detention center, Zuniga was not provided with any medical care. Instead, he was tossed into a “drunk tank” where he stayed for 21 hours.
“At the time Mr. Zuniga’s mug shot was taken, which was prior to him being placed in his cell, he is unable to hold his head up and has to be assisted by the deputies. Despite the obvious injuries, including a large swollen neck, cuts, and contusions, the jail officials acted with deliberate indifference and at no time sent Mr. Zuniga for medical evaluation or treatment. Instead, he was thrown into the “drunk tank” and left alone,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit reads, “On April 13, 2020, at 12:11 a.m. the jail finally called EMS to transport him to the hospital and get the medical care he had desperately needed but which was denied due to the absolute deliberate and unconscionable indifference of the deputies and the jail staff. When the EMS personnel arrived, Mr. Zuniga was found to have a hyperextended neck, a swollen neck, he was hypothermic, bradycardic, and suffering other obvious injuries. At the hospital, (first the McAllen Heart Hospital and then the McAllen MedicalCenter), Mr. Zuniga was found to have hematomas on his left eye, right chest, upper arm, and nose; he had a laceration on his left finger; he had a deformity of his right elbow; he had a deformity of his neck; he complained of neck pain; he was bradycardic and he was hypothermic(his temperature was 82.4 degrees). He was diagnosed with a severe cervical fracture, a swollen spinal cord, and was a quadriplegic. Specifically, he was found to have: Rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of damaged skeletal muscle); a 9mm anterolisthesis at C5-C6 in his neck (meaning his two vertebrae have been pushed over each other); bilateral jumped facet bones in his neck; bilateral laminar fractures in his neck and paralysis from his neck down.”
Attorneys said the deputies did not note any of the injuries in their report and could not explain how Zuniga received the injuries other than stating that “he resisted arrest.”
Zuniga was hospitalized until June 5, 2020. During the course of his hospital stay, he underwent multiple surgeries and due to his paralysis, he was on a ventilator to enable him to breathe. Zuniga underwent two cervical surgeries where plates and screws were placed in his neck in an attempt to stabilize his spine. During the course of these surgeries, his neck injuries were described as: a contusion from his skin to his spinal cord; severe spinal cord compression; marked swelling of his spinal cord; a partial tear of his dura (the membrane surrounding the spinal cord); a completely dislocated and broken up vertebrae; broken facet bones and broken laminar bones.
Zuniga remained on a ventilator until he died on July 15, 2020.
Witnesses told the Zuniga family that as the officers were beating Zuniga the officers laughed and taunted Zuniga because he was drunk and was having a hard time walking.
“The officers had no business on the property,” the family said in a statement. “They were not even called to the area for this reason. He was asked to go home and when he tried they tripped him and decided that he violated the emergency order for COVID-19. They then tortured him.”
The lawsuit states, “Despite Mr. Zuniga posing no risk of harm to himself or others, they initiated an arrest, and in the course of that arrest, used Tasers and physical violence sufficient to crush his neck, rendering him paralyzed. There was no need to use force, yet these officers collectively either directed that it be used or participated in it.”
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Named in the lawsuit are Hidalgo County deputies Steven Farias and Marco Guerrero, as well as two unidentified deputies who were identified as only John Doe.
The grand jury declined to charge the officers with manslaughter.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the deputies liable for punitive damages.
Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said he stands by his deputies and does not feel as though they did anything wrong. He was elected as the sheriff at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office in 2016.