In Corpus Christi in August, reported Krista Torralva at the Caller Times (Aug. 12):
A Nueces County jailer who accused a former inmate of attacking him admitted video footage showed the inmate was the victim, according to a sheriff's office investigator's report.Though none of the newspaper's coverage names the jailer, to its credit, the Caller Times filed extensive open records requests regarding the incident and obtained video:
Prosecutors declined to move forward in June with a charge of assault on a public servant against the inmate, Danny Gonzales. Last week, a case against him involving another jailer in a separate incident in the jail was dismissed.
Video of the May 31 incident shows an officer open the door to Gonzales' cell. Gonzales approaches the officer and appears to say something to him. The officer then pushes Gonzales, pins him against the cell wall and wrestles him to the ground while another officer looks on. The second officer joins the first in forcing Gonzales to the ground and the two officers punch the inmate several times. At one point, the second officer pushes Gonzales' face against the ground. About six additional jailers respond as the incident ends. Two of the officers then lead Gonzales out of the cell.In addition:
The video, which lasted about three minutes, has no audio.
Both officers wrote in their reports that Gonzales swung at one of them when they tried to secure his left arm. The officer told a sheriff's office investigator that he placed his hand on Gonzales' arm to have him back up before Gonzales struck him, according to the investigator's report. The video does not show the officer placing a hand on Gonzales before charging him.
The investigator wrote that she had the officer watch the video and asked "if he still considered himself as the victim or if he felt that he assaulted" Gonzales.
"(Correctional Officer) stated that after viewing the video surveillance that Inmate Gonzales was the victim," the investigator wrote in the incident report.
Lorena Whitney, a chief prosecutor, cited the video when she declined to accept the case against the inmate.In the next day's paper (Aug. 13), Sheriff Jim Kaelin defended the jailer's action, and emphasized that the victim was somebody they'd frequently seen before. "Gonzales has a 2013 conviction for assaulting a public servant," the paper reported, and "Court records show he also has misdemeanor convictions including failing to identify himself as a fugitive, driving with an invalid license and for assaulting a family member. Gonzales was arrested last year for violating conditions of his probation."
"Video does not match what officers described as to what occurred before assault (and) during assault," Whitney wrote in a form rejecting the case dated June 11, five days before the investigator interviewed the officer.
For prosecutors, though, that didn't mitigate what they'd seen on the videotape:
District Attorney Mark Skurka said as a result his office is tightening its requirements of the jail to accept assault on public servant cases. He expects prosecutors will need video evidence in most cases of assaults on jailers or an explanation as to why video does not exist. He also wants any existing reports of prior or subsequent incidents involving the inmate and jailer.One wonders how many of those 30-40 cases per year have people who, like Gonzales, were in fact innocent of the charges?
Each year, the district attorney's office gets an estimated 30-40 cases from the jail involving assault on a public servant, Skurka said.
So far, though, the jailer has faced no reprisals, has not been charged with a crime, nor even been named publicly in news coverage. On September 11, Torralva reported that:
A Nueces County jailer shown hitting an inmate in a cell during a videotaped confrontation has been cleared of any wrongdoing through an internal investigation.In that story, we get this tidbit:
"His actions were justified and were not in violation of rules and policies," Nueces County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy John Galvan said.
During a video taped interview with a sergeant before the internal affairs investigation one officer changed his account after watching video of the incident. The sergeant tells the officer his actions were inappropriate and asks him if he still feels like he is the victim, to which he answers "no."So the correctional officer admitted he was not the victim of an assault, as he'd claimed in an official report, and that in fact he'd assaulted the inmate. But the Sheriff's department cleared him of any wrongdoing, and so far the DA's office has not indicted him.
Twice, Sergeant Marilyn King asks the officer if he assaulted Gonzales. The officer answers "yes" both times.
"I don't feel like I was the victim," the officer said.
At least, unlike in the Carlos Flores case, prosecutors vetted the evidence and outed the jailer's assault before forcing Gonzales to plea bargain to a crime he didn't commit. Thank heaven for small blessings.