A Latin American civil rights organization claimed that guards in a Texas federal detention center beat a group of illegal immigrant inmates so severely that one inmate died, but prison accounts dispute the allegation and the organization is walking back its claim.
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) held a news conference on Sept. 6, accusing a handful of corrections officers of brutally beating three Hispanic inmates at Big Spring Flightline Correctional Facility after the sister of Jose David Garache-Munoz, one of the inmates, contacted LULAC with the claim.
“One (inmate) has died while in custody in ‘the Hole’ as a result of the terrible beat down,” LULAC’s civil rights chairman, Agustin Pinedo, said in a news release. But Pinedo told The Daily Caller News Foundation that LULAC has not been able to substantiate the death.
LULAC President Domingo Garcia also told TheDCNF that his group had not been able to confirm the death, but said that multiple prisoners believe the inmate in question is dead because “he’s missing.” Garcia explained that the organization received its information from various inmates, who have corroborated Garache-Munoz’s account.
While Garcia said he believes the missing inmate was killed, he suggested other possibilities, including that the man was moved to another detention facility and is in fact alive. But LULAC’s news release did not include any alternative scenarios and only said that the inmate was killed by prison staff.
LULAC alleged that Garache-Munoz was “savagely beaten into unconsciousness” after officers entered his jail cell on the night of Aug. 11. After handcuffing and pepper spraying him, the guards reportedly dragged Garache-Munoz into an area not viewable by security cameras and attacked him until he was convulsing, leaving him in a coma for five days.
Two other inmates allegedly tried to intervene and were also brutally beaten and all three men were subsequently denied medical treatment, according to LULAC. As a result, one of the inmates, who LULAC originally said was named Sergio, succumbed to his injuries weeks later and died in solitary confinement on Aug. 31.
During LULAC’s news conference, Pinedo said the news release misidentified the supposedly dead inmate and identified him as Irving Ortiz, not Sergio.
The GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private prison contractors and manager of Flightline, denied the accusations. After staff responded to a disturbance and identified the three inmates in question as instigators, the trio become increasingly aggressive, leading guards to use pepper spray on two of them, according to the GEO Group.
“(T)hey were both immediately taken to medical services for an assessment,” GEO Group said in a statement. “One was treated on-site and received no injuries. Upon showing signs of distress, the other inmate was transported to the local hospital where he was treated for eye irritation and discharged the same evening.
“No other injuries were sustained as a result of this incident and the procedures and processes followed were in accordance with all applicable policies and procedures,” the statement continued.
In a written response to LULAC’s accusation, Flightline Warden Bobby Thompson, explained that Garache-Munoz “positioned himself in an assaultive stance toward staff” and refused multiple orders to put his hands behind his back. Prison staff ultimately needed to use pepper spray to “gain compliance,” Thompson said in a letter to LULAC.
A committee required to review incidents involving chemical agents in the prison determined that the pepper spray use complied with Bureau of Prison policy. Further, both the medical assessment and hospital records show no signs of the patient having any “bruising, bumps, or lacerations” from the altercation, Thompson said.
Thompson also disputed the claim that Garache-Munoz fell into a coma, saying that the inmate was provided and ate three meals a day during the time in question and attended recreational activities two of the five days it was offered to him. The warden referenced Flightline records.
Moreover, Thompson said Flightline’s infirmary is not set up for in-patient stays and is not capable of holding an inmate overnight, much less holding a man in a coma for five days.
Pending investigation of the incident, Garache-Munoz was kept in the Restricted Housing Unit for inmates who pose a danger to the general population, according to Thompson, who said Flightline does not have solitary confinement.
LULAC said restricted housing housing is solitary confinement since inmates are kept away from the general population and that inmates refer to it as “the hole.” The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request seeking clarity between RHU and solitary confinement.
Thompson also noted there are ongoing administrative charges against Garache-Munez for “making threats towards staff and attempting to assault staff.”
Following the alleged incident, Garache-Munoz’s family received permission to visit him on two separate occasions. The family said prison guards attempted to intimidate them by “giving them mean looks and laughing at them,” and said that a female guard “yanked hard” on one of the brothers as he was searched for entry into the facility, LULAC’s statement said.
Thompson also disputed the allegation that Garache-Munoz’s brother was assaulted by a female worker, saying that the facility does not conduct cross-gender searches. The family did not report the incident to the detention facility because they felt too intimidated, and instead told LULAC, Garcia said.
Garache-Munoz, a Honduran immigrant, was sentenced to one year for unlawful entry, according to LULAC. Neither LULAC nor Garache-Munoz have taken or threatened to take legal action against Flightline or any other parties involved.
Pinedo called for the Bureau of Prisons to launch a full investigation and recommended that the detention center be permanently closed.
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