Inmate’s death at Pasadena Jail ruled a homicide
Finding appears to counter police account of cause being accidental
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
The recent death of Pasadena Jail inmate Pedro Gonzales was a homicide caused primarily by trauma to the lungs with rib fractures, the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined.
While “homicide” does not necessarily mean foul play was involved, it does appear to contradict statements by officers Jason W. Buckaloo and Christopher S. Jones that Gonzales was injured after he tripped and fell as they escorted him to a patrol car on July 21.
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office may refer the investigation to a grand jury later this month, said prosecutor Joe Owmby, head of the police integrity unit.
“The medical examiner’s ruling basically gives the cause and manner of death, but our investigation determines whether there was justification for a homicide,” Owmby said Tuesday.
Owmby acknowledged that police officials have given conflicting accounts concerning the custody death, but he said Pasadena’s internal affairs investigators have fully cooperated. The FBI’s Houston bureau has also launched a preliminary investigation.
Norman Ray Giles, an attorney for the city of Pasadena, said he could not comment on the cause of death because he has not read a full autopsy report, which has yet to be released by the medical examiner.
But Clyde “Jay” Jackson, an attorney for Gonzales’ widow, saw cause for concern.
“You expect the police to protect you from a homicide, not to commit a homicide,” Jackson said.
Greg Cagle, the officers’ attorney, could not be reached for comment.
Medical examiner spokeswoman Beverly Begay said Tuesday that the primary cause of death was blunt trauma to the lungs. A secondary cause was complication from liver disease caused by long-term alcohol consumption, Begay said.
A witness to the force used by officers on Gonzales said the 51-year-old man was not struggling or resisting arrest as police hit him and repeatedly knocked his body to the ground.
“Just the way they were beating him and him not moving, I think that’s (the homicide ruling) pretty right,” the witness, Evelyn Moreno, 20, said Tuesday.
Shortly after driving by about 2 a.m., Moreno called 911 from a pay phone to report police brutality, but a Pasadena Police Department 911 call taker and her supervisors did not send an ambulance or police to investigate.
Gonzales was found dead in a Pasadena Jail cell about five hours after Buckaloo and Jones arrested him between 2 and 2:30 a.m., less than half a mile from the jail.
Police said no one was sent to investigate Moreno’s call because the scene had cleared within a few minutes. The incident report, however, shows that officers had not booked Gonzales into the jail until 25 minutes after Moreno’s call.
Police said Gonzales refused medical treatment at the scene, but he was treated by an East Texas Medical Center ambulance unit in the jail after he collapsed before 3 a.m. at the booking window.
Police say he signed a medical refusal form at the jail and declined further treatment before he was found dead about 7:30 a.m.
The final autopsy and toxicology reports have not been released, but pre-incision autopsy photos obtained by the Houston Chronicle through the Texas Public Information Act show bruises, scrapes and lacerations all over Gonzales’ body, as well as what appear to be blood splatters on his jeans.
Two of his front teeth are missing in other photos taken from inside a jail cell. Gonzales’ family said he was not missing those teeth before he was booked into the jail on July 18 for public intoxication.
Pasadena police Capt. Bud Corbett has said Jones and Buckaloo did not use their Tasers on Gonzales. The officers said he resisted arrest when they noticed him outside a mechanic’s shop on East Harris.
Video of the arrest was not taken from the officers’ patrol car because they did not activate their flashing lights, Corbett has said. Police also did not take a mug shot of Gonzales after booking him into the jail.
Gonzales, who was separated from his wife and lived with his mother, collected cans to eke out a meager living. He had been arrested 10 times for public intoxication in the past decade. Diana, his wife, said he turned to alcohol to cope with a deep depression he had fallen into about 13 years ago.
“He was just a frail little man who got sucked into this downward spiral,” she said.