EDINBURG, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) - There's no question Jorge Gonzalez Zuniga had too much to drink on April 12, but exactly how his neck was broken while in the custody of the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office and why he didn't receive medical treatment for nearly 24 hours is being disputed.
Zuniga died months later and now his family is suing four sheriff's deputies, alleging they crushed a vertebra in his neck and failed to provide proper medical care, leading to his death.
Zuniga was 22-years-old when he was arrested and charged with violating an emergency management plan, public intoxication, and resisting arrest, search and transport, according to Hidalgo County Jail records.
According to the complaint filed by Zuniga's family attorneys, he had attended a friend's party and was asleep on the friend's lawn when deputies arrived to investigate an altercation.
When the deputies discovered Zuniga did not live at the residence, they told him to go home but then decided to arrest him, the complaint said.
He was tased multiple times during the arrest, pushed to the ground and had his neck crushed, according to the complaint.
Booking photos of Zuniga obtained from Hidalgo County Jail records show two gloved hands reaching in from out of frame to hold Zuniga's head upright.
According to the complaint, Zuniga was in his cell for more than 21 hours without any medical attention.
"Despite the obvious injuries, including a large swollen neck, cuts and contusions, the jail officials acted with deliberate indifference and at no time sent Mr. Zuniga for medical evaluation or treatment," the complaint said.
A day after his arrest, Zuniga was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a severe cervical fracture, a swollen spinal cord and was a diagnosed as a quadriplegic, according to the complaint.
Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office would not comment on the lawsuit.
Sheriff's Office Said Spinal Injuries Were Not Noticed Because Of Intoxication Level
On September 14, the sheriff's office said in a statement, "The day after the arrest, the Sheriff's Office requested an independent investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety. A Texas Ranger was assigned to the investigation. The Office cooperated fully with the Ranger's investigation, made all records available for his review, and provided access to each involved person for interview."
The sheriff's office also disputed the claim that Zuniga did not receive medical attention. In a statement from the Sheriff's office they said, "Mr. Zuniga refused to cooperate and became physically agitated, verbally abusive, and strongly resisted efforts to be taken into custody. Pepper Spray, Tasers, and three deputies were required to accomplish his physical restraint and placement into the backseat of the police cruiser."
"As he was placed into the car, he made several statements claiming that he had been hurt in the process," read the statement.
"Once in the jail, Mr. Zuniga was seen by a nurse, but because of his advanced state of intoxication, his spinal injuries were not discovered until many hours later that day. As soon as jail personnel realized he was seriously injured, an ambulance was called, and he was transported to the hospital for treatment," the statement said.
The charges against Zuniga were ultimately dropped and dismissed, according to the complaint.
In the following weeks after his release, Mr. Zuniga suffered multiple complications arising from his injuries, according to the complaint.
"On or about July 8, 2020, Mr. Zuniga suffered a heart attack and died on July 15, 2020. Jorge Zuniga's cause of death was listed as acute on chronic respiratory failure. Mr. Zuniga's death was the direct consequences of the injures and the lack of medical care by these Defendants," the complaint said.
The family is seeking an unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, according to the complaint.
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