Family of man who died in Willacy County detention center disputes suicide

Sheriff’s officials in Willacy County believe a Mission man held at a private prison in connection with federal drug charges killed himself; but the man’s family wants the incident to be investigated further.

Willacy County Sheriff’s Office officials confirmed Ramon Valencia-Morfin, 53, died Friday afternoon as a result of what appears to be self-inflicted wounds to his neck, they said.

John Reyes, an investigator with the sheriff’s office, would not say what was used during the incident but said a sharp object was recovered from Valencia’s cell.

Valencia, who was arrested by U.S. Marshals some time last week, was placed in a multi-person cell inside the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility in Raymondville, a privately run prison, on Monday, Reyes said.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to the facility at about 1:30 p.m. Friday in reference to an inmate who had suffered wounds to his neck, Reyes said.

When deputies arrived, medical personnel on the premises provided medical attention to Valencia before he was transported to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen where he was pronounced dead, the investigator said.

“There was constant observation by the staff at the facility — it happened very quickly,” Reyes said.

Officials with the U.S. Marshals Service declined several requests for comment over the phone but provided a prepared statement in an email.

“The U.S. Marshals Service is aware of (the) passing of Mr. Ramon Valencia-Morfin, who was a federal prisoner being housed in the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility. The Willacy County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into his death. As this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot provide further comment, and must refer you to the investigative agency,” officials with the U.S. Marshals Service said.

The company that runs the facility, Management and Training Corporation, declined comment after messages seeking comment were sent to the company’s president and CEO Scott Marquardt, and the company’s director Mark Lee.

In an emailed statement, Issa Arnita, MTC director of corporate communications, referred all questions to the U.S. Marshals Service.

Vanessa Ortega, an official with the Mexican Consulate in Brownsville, said the office received a call from an anonymous person who claimed a Mexican national had been injured and that the injuries were self-inflicted.

“We don’t have much information in terms of details about the incident, only that he was found lifeless in his cell,” Ortega said. “We have been unsuccessful in making contact with relatives.”

Ortega said Valencia was a native of Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, México.

Valencia’s attorney, Oscar Alvarez, said members of Valencia’s family had been interviewed by the separate agencies investigating his death and do not believe he would have hurt himself based on conversations they had with him prior to Friday’s incident.

“The only thing I can comment about Mr. Valencia’s passing is that the family has been interviewed. They don’t believe that it was a suicide. They requested the investigation proceed further and that an autopsy be performed on Valencia — they’re cooperating with all three agencies,” Alvarez said.

When asked about the anonymous call into the Mexican consulate, Alvarez emphasized no one from Valencia’s family had talked to anyone at the consulate’s office. He said clearly someone had an interest in getting out information about the man’s apparent suicide.

“We do not know the source of the call into the consulate’s office, but it is an interesting revelation,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez confirmed an autopsy had not yet been performed as of Tuesday afternoon.

Valencia was part of a seven-person indictment unsealed last week.

The indictment, which lists only five of the seven defendants with two names redacted, alleges Valencia and his co-defendants of federal drug conspiracy and money laundering charges involving the movement of more than 1,000 kilos of marijuana and more than 5 kilos of cocaine over a seven-year period, according to court records.

“Between Feb. 2009 and June 2016, Valencia did knowingly and intentionally conspire and agree together, to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances. The violation involved more than 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, and more than 5 kilograms of cocaine,” the indictment states.

Included in the indictment are co-defendants:

* Bryan Sylvester Mendoza, 27, of McAllen, accused of drug conspiracy, importation and exportation of drugs, money laundering, and engaging in monetary transaction charges, according to the indictment.

Mendoza was arrested in April 2015 in McAllen after police found more than $25,000 in cash inside a hidden compartment at a home in the 4400 block of West Heron Court.

Mendoza appeared in federal court Monday and was denied bail, according to his attorney Carlos A. Garcia.

* Mario Alberto Medina-Mendoza, 29, of Mission, is accused of importation and exportation of drugs, and money laundering charges, according to the indictment.

Medina plead guilty in 2010 in state district court to a third driving while intoxicated charge and was sentenced to two years in prison, according to court records.

* Cynthia Valencia is accused of importation and exportation of drugs and two counts of money laundering, according to the indictment.

* Ismael “Mike” Silva-Cortez is accused of drug conspiracy, importation and exportation of drugs and two counts of money laundering, according to the indictment.

Medina-Mendoza, Cynthia Valencia and Silva-Cortez are all expected to appear in federal court later this week, according to court records.