In a lawsuit filed on Thursday, September 3, 2020, a woman claims her son died wrongfully at the hands of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga, 22 at the time, was arrested by four officers with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office in the early morning of April 12. The victim (referred to by his mother’s maiden name Zuniga in the lawsuit) had been staying at a friend’s house following an Easter celebration.
According to the lawsuit, filed by The Law Offices of Thomas J Henry, a few women unrelated to Mr. Zuniga or his situation got into an altercation, causing the Sheriff’s Department to be called to the scene. Responding officers include Deputy Steven Farias and two yet-unidentified individuals, referred to as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2.
Zuniga was asleep when the police arrived, and officers asked him to return home when they discovered he did not live in the area. When Zuniga began to leave, he was placed under arrest for “violating the emergency management order and public intoxication.” (Both charges were later dropped and dismissed.)
During the arrest, Zuniga “was tazed multiple times, pushed to the ground, had his neck crushed, was handcuffed and placed in ankle restraints.” He was transported to Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center and was booked around 3 a.m.
The lawsuit states that Zuniga was never given a medical evaluation, despite being unable to hold his head up for his mug shot. He was put into the “drunk tank” and was left alone in his cell for more than 21 hours with no medical attention.
The Aftermath and Lawsuit
Shortly after 12:00 a.m. on the morning of April 13, he was found to be unresponsive in his cell. EMS was called to take Zuniga to the hospital, where he remained until June 5. He was paralyzed from the chest down when he was released and suffered multiple complications after leaving the hospital.
On or around July 8, Zuniga suffered a heart attack and passed away on July 15, with the official cause of death listed as “acute chronic respiratory failure.”
The lawsuit goes into further details about Zuniga’s conditions after the arrest. When EMS responded to the Detention Center on April 13, EMS personnel found him to be hypothermic at 82.4 degrees and to be suffering from a hyperextended neck, among other injuries.
Staff at McAllen Heart Hospital, and later McAllen Medical Center, found hematomas throughout his upper body. According to the lawsuit and to The Monitor, Zuniga was diagnosed with a severe cervical fracture and a swollen spinal cord, and he was later diagnosed as a quadriplegic.
The lawsuit states that the arresting officers violated Zuniga’s Fourth Amendment rights (protection from unreasonable seizures) and Fourteenth Amendment rights (protection from excessive force and the requirement of adequate medical care for those in governmental custody).
The lawsuit is being filed by Zuniga’s mother, wife, and son, who are requesting damages suffered for conscious pain, medical expenses, funeral expenses, loss of inheritance, and more.
A conference is scheduled for November 4, 2020, for the next hearing.