Hidalgo County settles lawsuit with family of man who died after pandemic arrest

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A McAllen federal judge on Friday afternoon signed off on a confidential settlement between Hidalgo County, four deputies, two nurses and the family of a 22-year-old man who died after suffering a severe neck injury over an Easter weekend 2020 arrest for allegedly violating a local COVID-19 emergency order and public intoxication.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa approved the settlement between the family and deputies, Steven Farias, Marco Guerrero, Jorge Cabrera, Julio Trevino, along with nurses Anita Mancha and Elda Rodriguez, and Hidalgo County over the death of Jorge Alejandro Zuniga Gonzalez.

Zuniga died on July 8, 2020 following multiple complications from his injuries.

He was initially arrested at 2:15 a.m. on April 12, 2020 at a party at his friend’s house after the sheriff’s office responded to an unrelated altercation.

That altercation happened in another area of a trailer park and neither Zuniga or anyone at his friend’s house was involved.

The deputies at some point found Zuniga sleeping in the yard of his friend’s house and approached him, found out he lived elsewhere and told him to go home.

The lawsuit said Zuniga followed their orders, but the deputies decided to arrest him for violating the emergency order and public intoxication, “two minor, non-violent misdemeanors,” which were eventually dismissed.

“During the course of the arrest deputies tackled and assaulted Mr. Zuniga. He was tazed multiple times, pushed to the ground, had his neck crushed, was handcuffed and placed in ankle restraints,” the lawsuit stated. “At one point he was intentionally tripped and when he would not get up while still fully shackled, he was tazed.

“Ultimately, he was placed in the patrol car and transported directly to the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center.”

Jorge Zuniga Gonzalez

The litigation alleged that the sheriff’s office ignored his obvious injuries and didn’t provide medical attention for nearly 24 hours.

Zuniga’s injuries were obvious in his mugshot as officials had to hold his head up to take his picture. The lawsuit revealed more graphic photos of his injuries.

The case became national news and resulted in protests around the Hidalgo County Courthouse at the time.

In a six-page agreed order, the county said that it contends the claims against it are “uncertain, doubtful, indefinite, and disputed, but, to put the dispute to rest, the parties have agreed to compromise and settle all claims that have or could have been asserted against the Defendants herein as a result of the acts and occurrences giving rise to this lawsuit, finds that the confidential settlement is reasonable, fair, just, and in the best interest of the Minor Plaintiff.”

The minor plaintiff is Zuniga’s child, who was born on Jan. 31, 2019.

The settlement is confidential to protect that child.

“Further, it is ORDERED that upon payment of the agreed settlement payments, Defendants herein should be, and are hereby fully and finally released, acquitted, and discharged from any and all liability to Plaintiff’s as a result of the incident made the basis of this case, because the Court finds that all amounts awarded by this judgment have been paid or will be paid pursuant to agreement of the parties,” the order stated.