Attorney: Willacy DA to charge deputies for inmate beating death
Mar. 18—RAYMONDVILLE — The Willacy County District Attorney's Office is pursuing criminal charges against deputies involved in a jail inmate's death, an attorney stated Friday.
Authorities are pressing charges against Willacy County deputies in the February 2022 death of John Ray Zamora, 33, whose family claims deputies beat while in handcuffs, attorney Israel Perez stated.
On Friday, Sheriff Joe Salazar did not respond to messages requesting comment.
"Willacy County will pursue a criminal case against the sheriff's deputies responsible for the death of John Ray Zamora," Perez, who represents the victim's four young daughters, stated in a press release.
"The criminal charges are a step in the right direction," Perez stated. "But the county has serious systemic problems it needs to address. This wasn't one rogue officer. This is a team of people who find humor in beating someone to death."
Family mistakenly contacted
On Friday, Yuri Rosillo-Youngs, an attorney representing Yvonne Zamora, the victim's mother, said a representative of the Willacy County District Attorney's Office mistakenly contacted family members, offering to let them view deputies' body cam footage of the beating.
"A county employee offered to show the victim's family the body camera footage," Perez stated in the press release. "However, the county quickly retracted the offer and reprimanded the employee."
District attorney's response
Late Friday afternoon, District Attorney Annette Hinojosa declined comment on whether she's pursuing charges in the case.
"In response to the press release from earlier today on expected criminal charges for police officers involved in the death of John Ray Zamora from attorneys Israel Garcia Perez III and Yuri Rosillo-Youngs, it is the policy of the Willacy County District Attorney's Office to not comment on any pending or current investigation," she stated. "This includes discussing whether or (not) charges are expected and includes discussing these matters with either the family members or their attorneys. Any statements made to the contrary are not accurate."
Meanwhile, Hinojosa referred to the attorneys' comments regarding a district attorney's office representative's offer to let the family view video footage of Zamora's beating.
"In this same spirit, in regards to the following statement that a 'county employee offered to show the victim's family the body camera footage. However, the county quickly retracted the offer and reprimanded the employee,' our Victim Assistance Unit advocates continue to provide support to the family of John Ray Zamora and operate within the bounds of our duties and obligations to both the Zamora family and those within the law. It is also our policy to not comment on any matter pertaining to an employee. I will simply state that the same assigned advocate continues working with the Zamora family."
In his press release, Perez states Zamora died in the Willacy County Jail "after being savagely beaten, pepper sprayed and tased while in handcuffs."
"After he was taken to the county jail, deputies stripped Mr. Zamora of his clothes and continued to beat him," the press release states.
Witnesses to the beating have said "the deputies were laughing while pepper spraying Mr. Zamora," it states.
Late last year, Zamora's family filed a lawsuit, claiming deputies beat him, leaving him with injuries that led to his death.
On Feb. 11, 2022, Zamora died in the county jail, where his family claims he was denied medical attention.
In his press release, Perez states the family filed a federal lawsuit.
"The victim's family has filed a federal lawsuit against Willacy County to address the systemic issues within the sheriff's department," Perez states in the press release. "A year later, the sheriff's department has still not released the body camera footage."
On Friday, Rosillo-Youngs said she expects an indictment to come down in the case.
"We think this is a huge step forward," she said. "Hopefully, we can get some justice for this continued behavior of law enforcement in this county."
In a lawsuit, the family claims three Willacy County sheriff's deputies and a Lyford police officer beat Zamora, leaving him with injuries that led to his death in the county jail.
In 197th state District Court, Blanca Gomez, on behalf of her family, filed the lawsuit against the city of Lyford, the Lyford Police Department, the sheriff's department and Salazar, arguing the officer and deputies used "unjustified and excessive force" leading Zamora to die in jail on Feb. 11 after officials denied his requests for medical help.
In her lawsuit, Gomez states a Lyford police officer arrived at Yvonne Zamora's home, where he believed Zamora was intoxicated.
"The Lyford Police Department officer, Willacy County Sheriff's Department deputies and all other employees and agents of defendants gained entry to Ms. Zamora's property without authorization and without (probable) cause," the lawsuit states.
"The officer began to confront Mr. Zamora on the basis of public intoxication at Ms. Zamora's house," the lawsuit states, adding the deputies were responding to the officer's call for back-up.
"The three deputies began to subdue Mr. Zamora violently," it states. "The Lyford Police Department officer assisted the deputies. Mr. Zamora called out to his mother for help as the police violently and painfully beat and restrained him. Ms. Zamora came to assist .... Ms. Zamora attempted to save her son's life. However, she was arrested for interfering with the Lyford Police Department officer and Willacy County sheriff's deputies. The deputies grabbed a lawful pocket knife out of Mr. Zamora's pocket. The deputies used the knife as an excuse to continue unnecessary force on Mr. Zamora."
The lawsuit argues Zamora requested medical help.
"At the time of the incident in question, John Ray Zamora requested medical attention," the lawsuit states. "Further, Mr. Zamora began showing signs of serious injury and/or illness. Thus, the Lyford Police Department officer, Willacy County Sheriff's Department deputies and all other employees and agents of defendants knew Mr. Zamora's physical health and welfare were at serious risk."
"Understanding that his injuries from the police confrontation were life threatening, Mr. Zamora requested medical assistance," the lawsuit states, adding, "Willacy County denied medical assistance."
After Zamora was found "unresponsive," he was taken to Valley Baptist Medical Center, where he died, the lawsuit states.