Woman falsely jailed for murder over an abortion sues Starr County, DA’s office

In this image from video, District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez speaks in a campaign announcement. (Monitor Screencapture)
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A woman who was falsely indicted and jailed on a murder charge for having a self-induced abortion has filed a federal lawsuit against Starr County, its district attorney and the assistant district attorney who attempted to prosecute the case.

Edinburg attorney Ida Cecilia Garza filed the lawsuit on behalf of Lizelle Gonzalez, previously identified in jail and court records as Lizelle Herrera, on Thursday against the county, District Attorney Gocha A. Ramirez and Assistant District Attorney Alexandria Lynn Barrera.

The filing comes a month after the State Bar of Texas fined and imposed a probated suspension against Ramirez over the indictment.

The lawsuit brings many unknown details about the case to light.

That filing said that on Jan. 7, 2022 at approximately 7:18 p.m. Gonzalez went to the Starr County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department while pregnant at 19 weeks gestational stage for an abortion attempt after using Cytotec Icetrogen 400 mcg to induce an abortion.

“Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Rodolfo Lozano, M.D. and Norma Aguirre RN,” the lawsuit stated. “After obstetrical examination revealed no contractions and positive fetal heart rate, Plaintiff was discharged home on January 8, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. with a diagnosis of abdominal pain and instructions to follow up with Dr. Lozano on January 12, 2022.”

About 40 minutes later, Gonzalez was taken back to the hospital by EMS with complaints of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding.

“Examination in the emergency department … revealed no fetal cardiac activity and ‘incomplete spontaneous abortion.’ Plaintiff was admitted to obstetrics for a repeat classical cesarean section by Dr. Luis Ramirez for the delivery of her stillborn child,” the lawsuit stated.

Gonzalez and her attorney say in the petition that they believe that sometime between Jan. 7, 2022 and March 30, 2022 that “employees, agents and/or representatives of Starr County Memorial Hospital, in violation of federal privacy laws reported Plaintiff’s self-induced abortion to the Starr County District Attorney’s Office.”

Furthermore, Gonzalez alleges that neither the Starr County Sheriff’s Office nor the Rio Grande City Police Department conducted an investigation around the murder charge and that the Starr County District Attorney’s Office through Barrera, the assistant district attorney, performed its own investigation based on those purported reports from hospital personnel.

The lawsuit also alleges that Barrera and Ramirez were involved in the investigation, though Ramirez told the State Bar of Texas that he was not aware of the facts of the case.

In its order, the State Bar of Texas said that was a false statement.

“Upon information and belief, District Attorney Gocha Allen Ramirez and Assistant District Attorney Alexandria Lynn Barrera made misrepresentations of the facts and the law to a grand jury, recklessly and callously disregarding the rights of Plaintiff, allowing a malicious prosecution to commence against her,” the lawsuit stated.

On March 30, 2022, that grand jury indicted Gonzalez.

“At Plaintiff’s grand jury presentation, Defendants Ramirez and Barrera, and other co-conspirators were aware that Section 19.06 of the Texas Penal Code exempted the death of an unborn child from the statute pertaining to murder ‘if the conduct charged is: (1) conduct committed by the mother of the unborn child.’ However, Defendants Ramirez and Barrera proceeded to provide the grand jury with false and misleading information and omissions in order to secure an Indictment against Plaintiff that ‘on or about the 7th day of January 2022, and before the presentment of this indictment, in Starr County, Texas, did then and there intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual J.A.H. by a self-induced abortion,’” the lawsuit stated.

Gonzalez says in the lawsuit that had Ramirez and Barrera been truthful, there would be no legal basis for the indictment and arrest.

Authorities then arrested Gonzalez on April 7, 2022. She was booked into the county jail and spent three days being incarcerated until Ramirez on April 9, 2022 dismissed the unfounded charges.

The Monitor first reported the charge and Gonzalez’s arrest after routine checks of booking reports. Following that report, due to the highly charged topic of abortion and Texas’ strict abortion law going into effect, Gonzalez’s plight became state, national and international news.

“The fallout from Defendants’ illegal and unconstitutional actions has forever changed the Plaintiff’s life,” the lawsuit stated. “In statements issued by Defendant Ramirez to the national press, he conceded that ‘[a]though with this dismissal Ms. Herrera will not face prosecution for this incident, it is clear to me that the events leading up to this indictment have taken a toll on Ms. Herrera and her family,’” the lawsuit stated.

That petition describes how Gonzalez’s mugshot was “immediately plastered all over the news, through television, print and social media.”

It describes national headlines that were published within hours after The Monitor learned of Gonzalez’s plight.

“The unfounded charges against Plaintiff gained the attention of the Associated Press, were televised nationally, and can still be found through numerous news sites on the internet,” the lawsuit stated. “Furthermore, because the charges stemmed from abortion — a hot button political agenda — the dismissal of the charges did not result in any less media attention.

“Rather, the media attention was heightened after the dismissal due to the fact that the prosecution was frivolous.”

The turn of events forever changed her life and impacted her standing in the community, the lawsuit said.

“She brings this case not only to vindicate her rights but also to hold accountable the government officials who violated them,” the lawsuit stated.

Gonzalez is seeking $1,000,000 in damages over numerous claims.

Starr County has not yet responded to the lawsuit.