Inmate files federal lawsuit against sheriff

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio is pictured Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, during a press conference at the Cameron County Sheriff's Office in Brownsville, Texas. A former detainee has filed a lawsuit against Lucio and Lieutenant Carlos Garza over an incident that occurred in January of 2015 at the Cameron County Detention Center (CCDC). (Denise Cathey/ The Brownsville Herald)

A man formerly detained at the Cameron County Detention Center filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Omar Lucio and Lt. Carlos Garza alleging that jail staff failed to move him from a cell occupied by gang members who beat him unconscious.

The petition was filed by Arturo Rico Espinoza, who was incarcerated at the CCDC on Nov. 19, 2014 awaiting sentencing on charges related to illegal re-entry or drugs, according to the document.

Espinoza alleged that he advised the jail staff in charge of the placement of inmates that he could not be placed with gang members because he did not maintain a gang affiliation.

Despite the request, Espinoza wrote that staff placed him in a cell with a prison gang, which told him that he did not have any right to be in the cell because the area was controlled by the gang members.

According to the petition, this caused Espinoza to fear for his safety. As a result, he made verbal requests to jail officials asking to be placed in protective custody.

He received no response, prompting him to ask staff to reach out to the jail’s Special Investigation Unit, tasked with addressing violence or potential violence in the jail, according to the lawsuit. The official in charge of the unit at the time was Garza, according to the allegations.

Espinoza stated that he wasn’t able to provide details regarding his fear for his safety in verbal requests to be moved out of worry that the danger would be increased if other inmates became aware of his complaints.

“Defendant Lucio created a system in the jail whereby there was no security and/or confidentiality in communications between incarcerated individuals and the jail staff,” the document alleged.

The petition stated that Espinoza was beaten in the back of the head for approximately four to five minutes by his cell mates in January 2015. The incident left him unconscious on the floor. He suffered damages to his head and ribs.

The former inmate is asking for a jury trial to determine whether he suffered violations of his Eight and Fourteenth Amendment rights, granting protection from cruel and unusual punishment and equal protection under the law. He is representing himself.

A response to the lawsuit on the behalf of Lucio and Garza has not yet been filed.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com