Family files wrongful death lawsuit against Hidalgo Co. Sheriff’s Deputies

Local News

Source: Hidalgo County Public Record

Harlingen, Texas (KVEO)—The family of a man who died during an arrest filed a lawsuit against four Hidalgo County Sheriff’s deputies, the The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.

The lawsuit is a civil negligence claim for injuries and damages that the family of Jorge Alejandro Gonzalez Zuniga say he suffered during his arrest on April 12.

“The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office is committed to the full and complete investigation of complaints against the department and its employees,” a statement from the Sheriff’s office reads. “The day after the arrest, the Sheriff’s Office requested an independent investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety. A Texas Ranger was assigned to the investigation. The Office cooperated fully with the Ranger’s investigation, made all records available for his review, and provided access to each involved person for interview.”

The lawsuit, filed by Zuniga’s mother Catalina Herrera, also includes Zuniga’s wife Johana Acosta and son as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks damages for injuries it says were caused by deputies Steven Farias and Marco Guerrero, along with two unidentified deputies referred to as John Doe 1 and 2.

According to the Sheriff’s office, on the day of the arrest deputies were called to the scene of an early morning disturbance and assault at a mobile home park on FM 88 in the Delta Lake area.

During their investigation, they found Zuniga lying on the ground unconscious among empty beer bottles. Zuniga was awakened by the officers but was very intoxicated, according to deputies.

But, the lawsuit claims Zuniga was asleep in his friend’s yard and was awakened to go home and that the deputies responded to a call of an altercation between women initially.

“The deputies gave Mr. Zuniga multiple chances to go inside and safely sleep off the intoxication or to call someone to pick him up,” the Sheriff’s office statement reads. “He began to walk around aimlessly and knocked on at least one door without success.”

The owner of the residence said Zuniga was did not live there and he did not want him at the park, according to the Sheriff’s office, which said Zuniga insisted he was going to walk home. The Sheriff’s office says the walk home would have taken Zuniga along a busy highway and near a canal.

Deputies said they told Zuniga he was going to be placed under arrest and taken into custody so that he could “sober up” in jail.

“Mr. Zuniga refused to cooperate and became physically agitated, verbally abusive, and strongly resisted efforts to be taken into custody. Pepper Spray, Tasers, and three deputies were required to accomplish his physical restraint and placement into the backseat of the police cruiser.” said the statement from the Sheriff’s office.

The lawsuit, however, says at one point during the arrest, Zuniga was intentionally tripped, and shocked with a stun gun.

Once arrested, the sheriff’s office said Zuniga was seen by a nurse, but because of his advanced state of intoxication, his spinal injuries were not discovered until many hours later. As soon as those injuries were discovered, the Sheriff’s office says an ambulance was called and he was taken to a hospital.

Sometime later, the hospital said that Zuniga had suffered a vertebral fracture.

The lawsuit says that Zuniga later died of complications related to a spinal injury. The lawsuit also included his mug shots.

The lawsuit stated “the jail officials acted with deliberate indifference and at no time sent him for medical evaluation or treatment.” 

Jorge Alejandro Gonzalez Zuniga (Credit: Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office)

After his photo was taken, Zuniga was put into the “drunk tank,” a large cell that holds intoxicated individuals, according to the lawsuit. 

On April 13, the lawsuit says Zuniga was released from jail because he was found to be non-responsive.

“We are not in possession of the medical records required to confirm the cause of death. It is my intention that all personnel in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office respect and protect the civil rights of the citizens in this county,” says the Sheriff’s office statement.

The lawsuit claims that doctors said Zuniga had deformity of his neck and was diagnosed with a severe cervical fracture and a swollen spinal cord. He was also diagnosed as a quadriplegic, according to the lawsuit. 

Zuniga was released from the hospital, but remained on a ventilator and was paralyzed from his chest down, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also states Zuniga suffered several complications and had to return to the hospital and later died.

The lawsuit stated Zuniga’s death was due to the injuries and lack of medical care from the deputies.

To read the lawsuit, click here.

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