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Former INS Agents Guilty of Neglecting Man's Injuries

A jury finds the three men let a migrant with a broken neck wait seven hours for medical help.

June 10, 2003|Scott Gold | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- A federal jury found three former U.S. immigration agents guilty Monday of failing to get medical help for a Mexican citizen who was injured during a raid. The man was left a quadriplegic and died 11 months later.

The former deportation officers of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service were found guilty of "deliberate indifference to the serious medical needs" of Serafin Olvera-Carrera, 47, who suffered a broken neck and wasn't taken to a hospital for seven hours, according to federal prosecutors.

Olvera-Carrera, an illegal immigrant and father of five who had worked in the United States as a roofer for nearly 25 years, was injured during a roundup of migrants in March 2001 and died at a Houston hospital in February 2002, the victim of blunt-force trauma to the neck, according to a medical examiner.

The former officers -- Richard Gonzales, 37; Carlos Reyna, 43; and Louis Rey Gomez, 37 -- are scheduled for sentencing in September.

Reyna and Gomez face a maximum of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, said Nancy G. Herrera, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Houston. Gonzales, who was also convicted of using excessive force for using pepper spray on Olvera-Carrera, faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

"We're very pleased with the verdict," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Ruben R. Perez. Olvera-Carrera, the prosecutor said, "had to be the unluckiest guy on the face of the Earth. All [his family] ever wanted was justice. All I ever wanted was justice."

Defense attorneys representing Gonzales and Reyna could not be reached for comment. Jay Norton, a San Antonio-based defense attorney who represented Gomez, said he plans to appeal the conviction.

"They are shocked," Norton said. "Unfortunately I've been around long enough that I don't have that much faith in the system, but they did have a lot of faith. They really believed the truth was going to come out. I genuinely believe that Louis Gomez didn't intentionally do anything to this guy or withhold any kind of medical treatment. He just wouldn't have done it. I think the jury was misled."

According to the U.S. attorney's office, the officers were taking part in a roundup of illegal immigrants when they discovered Olvera-Carrera in a Bryan, Texas, home. Olvera-Carrera was taken into custody, and as he walked to the rear of the house an altercation erupted.

Witnesses told authorities they saw Olvera-Carrera "taken down," according to federal prosecutors. After Olvera-Carrera was handcuffed and placed face-down on the floor, Reyna "dropped his knee forcefully on [Olvera-Carrera's] back," prosecutors said -- a move that was described to the jury during the monthlong trial as something akin to a maneuver seen in professional wrestling. As Olvera-Carrera moaned on the floor, Reyna kicked him repeatedly, prosecutors charged. Reyna was acquitted on charges of excessive use of force.

Olvera-Carrera was carried to a van and taken with other illegal immigrants to a county jail. A nurse testified that she was on duty at the jail but was never notified that Olvera-Carrera might need medical assistance.

Olvera-Carrera was then carried to a federal government bus. There, Gonzales suggested to the other two officers that they use pepper spray on Olvera-Carrera to "see if he budges," federal prosecutors charge. Several other immigrants testified that they never saw Olvera-Carrera move again after he was sprayed.

Olvera-Carrera was taken to a hospital after arriving at a second jail -- seven hours after the altercation. Olvera-Carrera never recovered and remained hospitalized until his death.

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