US: Prison company to pay $42.5 million in beating death

Publisher Name: 
San Antonio Express News

In a searing opinion, the 13th Court of Appeals
has upheld $42.5 million in punitive damages against a private prison
operator for the "horrific and gruesome death" of inmate Gregorio De La
Rosa Jr. in 2001.

De La Rosa was beaten to death by two other
inmates at a 1,000-bed facility in Raymondville while guards and
supervisors looked on, according to trial testimony three years ago.

The
trial judge concluded that prison officials, including co-defendant
David Forrest, the prison warden, had destroyed or lied about critical
evidence, including a videotape of the fatal beating.

When De La Rosa died, he had only four days left to serve on a six-month sentence for a minor drug offense.

In
the appellate court's ruling late last week, it upheld all but $5
million of the original $47.5 million jury award, noting, "We find
Wackenhut's conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted
a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for
this state's civil justice system."

Wackenhut Corrections Corp.
later became the Geo Group, which operates about 50 private prisons in
five countries, including 19 in Texas. Lawyer Reagan Simpson, who
represented Geo, did not return a call seeking comment.

Ronald
Rodriguez of Laredo, who sued Wackenhut on behalf of De La Rosa's
family, said the appellate court sent "a clear message to the Geo Group
that it will not tolerate (its) intentional malice, trickery and
deceit, and attempted manipulation of the judicial system."

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  • 116 Human Rights