New details emerge in sheriff’s office brutality allegations

A group gathered near the Hidalgo County Courthouse to march in protest on Saturday, Sept.26,2020 in Edinburg. Photo by Delcia Lopez/The Monitor | dlopez@themonitor.com

Two of the law enforcement authorities involved in an alleged police brutality case have been identified nearly two months after a grand jury declined to bring charges against deputies with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.

In the incident reports from Steven Farias, Jorge Cabrera and Sgt. Julio Trevino, the deputies detailed the April arrest of Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga, whose story gained traction through social media, followed by his family filing a lawsuit against the sheriff’s deputies.

After his encounter with the deputies, Gonzalez Zuniga was hospitalized at McAllen Medical Center and declared a quadriplegic, among other injuries suffered. On June 5, he was released but still suffered complications from his injuries before dying on July 15.

In the family’s lawsuit, Farias is listed as a defendant along with two unidentified deputies in addition to Marco Guerrero. Preston Edward Henrichson, the sheriff’s office attorney, confirmed Cabrera and Trevino are the unidentified deputies in the lawsuit. The fourth defendant, Guerrero, was not present during the arrest, but conducted a suicide evaluation prior to Gonzalez Zuniga’s booking.

On Sept. 14, Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra commented on Gonzalez Zuniga’s arrest and his family’s lawsuit in a news release. Henrichson said the arresting deputies are still on administrative leave with pay.

Henrichson previously explained Guerra, as part of protocol, requests independent investigations whenever he receives a report of an injury involving force in connection with an arrest. As a result, a member of DPS’ investigative agency, the Texas Rangers, was assigned to the investigation.

DEPUTY REPORTS

The first deputy on scene that April morning was Cabrera, at 1:14 a.m., who was originally responding to an assault.

Cabrera met with Lucio Duque, who informed him of a dispute between two women who lived at the mobile home park that resulted in an alleged assault. One of the women lived near the entrance of the park, while the suspect lived on the south side of the park.

Trevino arrived later, at about 1:46 a.m., in response to a welfare check, while Farias arrived last at 2:40 a.m. In Trevino’s report, he stated Farias and Cabrera went to meet with the suspect.

However, how they found and encountered Gonzalez Zuniga is unclear based on differing narratives from the deputies.

According to Trevino’s report, he was the first to find Gonzalez Zuniga, who he noted had no visual injuries and was surrounded by empty beer bottles and lawn chairs.

The park owner, Duque, said Gonzalez Zuniga didn’t live there but “was probably a guest of one of the tenants,” so Trevino stated he told the man to go inside his host’s home. Following this, Trevino stated, “Sheriff’s Deputies walked to the location of the adult male, who had again laid on his back and fallen asleep.”

Cabrera’s report, however, stated Farias and Trevino were “checking vitals” on Gonzalez Zuniga. In Farias’ narrative, he attempted to make contact with Gonzalez Zuniga, “not knowing if the male was injured or involved in the assault.”

Additionally, Farias and Trevino make no mention of checking Gonzalez Zuniga’s vitals.

According to Farias, Gonzalez Zuniga told the deputies his wife lived down the road, but couldn’t call her, so he wanted to walk home.

The deputies stated Gonzalez Zuniga was walking around the park and “appeared lost.”

Farias and Cabrera both stated Gonzalez Zuniga was knocking on random doors, but in Trevino’s report, he noted the man only knocked on one specific door. Then, Farias stated Duque not only said he wanted Gonzalez Zuniga gone, but he also “did not know if he was visiting somebody there.”

All three deputies stated Gonzalez Zuniga attempted to run away from them, but this was not stated in the probable cause affidavit.

When the deputies advised Gonzalez Zuniga he was being arrested, each narrative noted the man became defensive and resisted arrest.

Farias reported seeing Gonzalez Zuniga “walking backwards in a defensive stance saying he did not want to go to jail.” However, after asking him to place his hand on a vehicle, Trevino stated in his report that Gonzalez Zuniga disobeyed and “began to walk backward in a defiant stance.”

Also, Farias stated he attempted to gain control of Gonzalez Zuniga’s hand, but the man pulled away. Here, Farias noted Trevino unholstered his stun gun and gave Gonzalez Zuniga several commands to lay on the ground. Farias reported the man refused and ran from the deputies, which led to Trevino using his stun gun.

Similarly, in Cabrera’s narrative, he said “Jorge became uncooperative” before he suddenly ran east. Cabrera stated: “Jorge came to a sudden stop and got into what appeared a fighting stance.”

After Trevino used his stun gun, the deputies each have a different account of how Gonzalez Zuniga ended on the ground.

Cabrera stated “Jorge was escorted to the ground in an attempt to place handcuffs,” while Farias wrote that he jumped onto Gonzalez Zuniga’s back to handcuff him, and Trevino reported the man fell to the ground and landed face down on his stomach. Neither Cabrera nor Trevino make mention of Farias jumping onto Gonzalez Zuniga’s back.

Instead, Trevino stated when Gonzalez Zuniga fell down, Cabrera reached for the man’s right arm (though he doesn’t state this in his narrative) while Farias reached for the left. Following this, Trevino said he reached for Gonzalez Zuniga’s legs and bent his right leg up “towards his butt area to gain control.”

The deputies stated Gonzalez Zuniga refused verbal commands and continued to resist by placing his arms under his stomach while on the ground, and pushed himself upward and side-to-side.

Trevino used his stun gun on Gonzalez Zuniga’s lower back, but said the “taser appeared to malfunction as it made no sound of discharge and had no effect on [him].” In Farias report, he saw the taser “to have little or no effect,” so he used pepper spray, which hit Gonzalez Zuniga in his eyes.

Though Farias stated he and Cabrera were finally able to handcuff Gonzalez Zuniga, he doesn’t make mention of Trevino turning off and on his stun gun and getting “an effective contact” on the man. Although he noted Gonzalez Zuniga didn’t move, Trevino said he “drive-stunned” the man, a technique in which the stun gun is placed against a person’s body, because he had begun to struggle again.

Once Gonzalez Zuniga was handcuffed, Trevino said he continued to be “defiant and uncooperative, struggling to free himself,” which resulted in Cabrera running to his unit to get leg restraints, while Farias “held to his torso” and Trevino held his legs.

The deputies had to carry and load Gonzalez Zuniga into the backseat, according to Trevino, because he refused to get inside the unit.

Cabrera transported Gonzalez Zuniga to the county jail, where the deputies stated they received assistance from the jail staff because the man continued to resist. Farias said he saw Gonzalez Zuniga placed in the restraint chair and booked him.

At the end of his narrative, Farias noted his uniform had blood stains on the right pocket and on the sleeve area. However, he stated he didn’t need medical attention or any noticeable injuries at the time.

It’s worth noting that none of the deputies make mention of Gonzalez Zuniga’s booking photo. The deputy reports also do not make any mention of the cocaine in his system, which Guerra stated he learned about later through a blood test that confirmed the presence of the substance in Gonzalez Zuniga.

Through a Texas Public Information request, The Monitor requested body cam footage from that night, but were told no footage was available.

That night, Gonzalez Zuniga was charged with public intoxication, violation of emergency plan — charges that were dropped and dismissed according to the lawsuit — and resisting arrest.

Once the independent investigation was completed, the Texas Rangers and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s office presented the case to a grand jury on Aug. 20 and voted on a no bill. In response, Gonzalez Zuniga’s family, La Union del Pueblo Entero and Divest Invest RGV organized a protest.