Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Hidalgo County Deputies

Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga in hospital after being injured by deputies
Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga

Arrest of Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga

On April 22, three deputies with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga. The deputies had gone to the trailer park where Mr. Zuniga was because of an unrelated call of two women fighting. They noticed Mr. Zuniga asleep in a yard. Mr. Zuniga had attended a barbeque and gotten extremely inebriated. It is unknown as to why the deputies decided to roust Mr. Zuniga but they quickly discover that he was “in a highly intoxicated state.” Once officers realized that Mr. Zuniga was too drunk to safely get himself home, they decided to take him into custody.

Deputies say that Zuniga resisted arrest but according to the KSAT article, “No time of day is listed on the report and no details were provided on how Zuniga resisted arrest.” A fourth deputy, a booking officer, is included in the lawsuit. Needless to say, the lawsuit, and what the deputies say happened, paint significantly different pictures.

What We Know

We do know that prior to the officers trying to take Mr. Zuniga into custody, he was able to walk around. Both sides admit that Zuniga was pepper sprayed and tased. According to Deputy Guerrero, Mr. Zuniga’s, “efforts to prevent the arrest and transport exhausted three Deputies.” And also from Deputy Guerrero’s statement we know, “As he was placed into the car, he made several statements claiming that he had been hurt in the process.”

So Zuniga told them he was hurt several times, yet they took him to the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center instead of seeking medical attention for him. There is a conflict in statements between officers about when Zuniga was photographed but it is obvious that they had to hold his head up to take the booking photo. Again, time frame is weird, but it seems that prior to the photograph, Mr. Zuniga was left in a cell for 21 hours without any medical attention. A nurse looked at him, but supposedly he was too intoxicated for her to realize he was seriously injured.

Zuniga Quadriplegic After Police Brutality

The above is very concerning for me. It turns out that by this point, Mr. Zuniga had been injured to the extent of being a quadriplegic. He no longer had control of his body from the neck down. The lawsuit says Mr. Zuniga had obvious injuries but even if they thought he was that intoxicated, wouldn’t they have at least worried about alcohol poisoning? Shouldn’t they have made more of an effort to ensure his safety?

According to the KSAT article the following are the injuries that Mr. Zuniga suffered at the hands of the Hidalgo deputies,

Among the injuries listed in the lawsuit, Zuniga was found to have a hyperextended, swollen neck and was “hypothermic, bradycardic and suffering other obvious injuries” when EMS arrived. Bradycardia is a slower than normal heart rate, according to MayoClinic.org.

At the hospital, Zuniga was found to have hematomas on his left eye, right chest, upper arm and nose, a deformity of his right elbow, deformity of his neck, laceration on his left finger and he was complaining of neck pain, according to the lawsuit. His temperature was 82.4 degrees and he was diagnosed “with severe cervical fracture, a swollen spinal cord and was a quadriplegic.”

He was also found to have rhabdomyolysis, a “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.”

Grand Jury Says No Crime Committed

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office asked the Texas Rangers to investigate. They did and turned the case over to the Grand Jury who no billed it. No videos have been released showing the struggle so we are unable to tell what really happened. It does seem strange that the deputies keep emphasizing how highly intoxicated Mr. Zuniga was and yet he supposedly was able to fight them into exhaustion.

And I have concerns about the failure to give Mr. Zuniga medical attention after he said he had been injured, the failure to realize something was wrong when he couldn’t even hold his head up on his own, and the willingness to leave a man alone for 21 hour who they thought was so inebriated that he couldn’t even control his own body. If that is not criminal negligence then it should be.

The Death of Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga

Mr. Zuniga did not die right away. The misdemeanor charges of violating the emergency management order and public intoxication, which are tickets, were dropped. Mr. Zuniga underwent several surgeries. He was released from the hospital on June 5 but, “suffered a heart attack on July 8 before passing away on July 15. His cause of death is listed as “acute on chronic respiratory failure” which the lawsuit says was a direct consequence of his injuries and lack of medical care.”

Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga was 22 years old.

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