in Houston, Texas

Riots, deadly beating, filth plague GEO Group facilities, courts and state regulators find

Monday, Apr 27, 2009, 12:15PM CST
By Matt Pulle
Continued from page 1, which outlines state Sen. Judith Zaffirini and Rep. Rene Oliveira's connections to the GEO Group prison company.

(Story continues below map. Click here to jump down.)

Geo Group facilities in Texas

View Geo Group in Texas in a larger map

Two years ago, the Texas Youth Commission slammed the GEO Group's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, discovering illegal contraband and filthy cells that "smelled of feces and urine." Other findings included racially segregated cells and a limited education program that consisted of one daily worksheet slipped into the juvenile's cell. The agency later pulled 197 of its inmates out of the facility and canceled its contract with the firm.

Then, earlier this month, the Court of Appeals in the 13th district in Corpus Christi upheld a massive judgment against the GEO Group, then known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp., after an inmate was beaten to death at one of its facilities. The court concluded that the company tried to cover up the attack and that its conduct "constituted a disgusting display of disrespect."

“The GEO Group is an appalling company to represent," says Bob Libal, the Texas campaigns coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, a social justice organization that opposes private prisons. “It’s staggering to think about how many problems the GEO group has had in Texas."

The GEO Group last year earned $59 million in fees from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for managing nine state facilities.  More notably the GEO Group has endured a rash of problems in Texas that have garnered the attention of their colleagues in Austin, as well as media outlets across the country.

In 2007 State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat and chairman of the criminal justice committee, called for a special hearing on GEO's state contracts after the Texas Youth Commission issued the devastating report on the company's youth facility. He then lashed out at the firm when he felt like its lobbyists were attempting to downplay its troubles.

Whitmire

The corrections outfit also generated headlines when two prison riots broke out at the GEO-operated Reeves County Detention Center, which houses inmates detained on federal immigration violations. The first rash of violence came last December after inmates complained about a lack of health care, followed by more rioting two months later in which the West Texas facility was engulfed in flames.  Both riots cost Reeves County, which owns the detention center, more than $1 million to repair the damages.

Zaffirini's husband, Oliveira's firm defended GEO Group in 2001 prison beating case

But despite the GEO Group's recent bout of bad publicity, it was a brutal prison beating nearly a decade ago that may raise the most questions about Zaffirini and Oliveira's financial interest in the company.

On April 26, 2001, two inmates at a GEO Group-operated facility in Willacy County stuffed prison-issued padlocks into socks and beat Gregorio de la Rosa on his head, neck, ribs and back, striking him dead just four days before his intended release.

The family of de la Rosa, an honorably discharged National Guardsman who was incarcerated on a drug charge, would later file a wrongful death lawsuit against the GEO Group. They claimed that the beating was no isolated incident. Rather, de la Rosa's attorney, Ronald Rodriguez, alleged that facility's guards allowed inmates to enforce their own brand of order that included rape and extortion.

The Laredo attorney put on quite a case. He introduced evidence of assaults in which inmates were also attacked with padlocks wrapped inside socks -- just like de la Rosa had been.  Rodriguez showed that the guards didn't follow policy when they failed to pat down inmates who entered the area where the deadly beating took place. Finally, in order to point to a wider culture of dysfunction, Rodriguez introduced into evidence a prison training videotape in which a guard tells an inmate that if he didn't want to be raped, he shouldn't have come to prison.

$47.5 million judgment

A jury would later award the de la Rosa family $47.5 million, one of the top 10 jury verdicts in 2006. The judge and jury also found that the company destroyed the videotape of the beating. The GEO Group appealed the case, but earlier month the court of appeals in the 13th district of Texas upheld the ruling. The court noted testimony that the prison's warden and officers "smirked and laughed" as the inmates attacked de la Rosa. Judge Gina Benavides, who wrote the opinion, also concluded that Warden David Forrest intentionally disposed of incriminating evidence and that "these cover-up attempts show intentional malice, trickery, and deceit.”

"We hold that nearly all the indicators of reprehensible conduct exists in this record," the judge said.

In October 2007,  Zulema de la Rosa Salazar, the older sister of the late inmate, wrote a letter to Whitmire, who had recently called for a hearing on the GEO Group's track record in Texas. In her letter, Salazar says that she tried to warn officials in Webb County when the company proposed building a prison there. But no one would ever meet with her.

"They will not listen," she writes, her anger nearly crystallizing on the page. "Why? I'll tell you why. One of the GEO Group's attorneys, Mr. Zaffirini, is married to Senator Judith Zaffirini. Is this not a conflict of interest?"

Continues ...


Hear from Carlos Zaffirini, who says his senator wife would not let his lawyering influence her lawmaking. On page 3.

See a listing of state legislative proposals that would limit the GEO Group, as well as all private prisons in Texas. On page 4.
Comments
Be the first to post a comment.
Video
KTRK: On Big Screens for Billionaires, Comptroller Susan Combs Silent
Related Blogs and Media
Dallas wins the Bankruptcy Contest Who would have ever thought that the Houston pension problem would take a back seat to an impending City of Dallas bankruptcy? The word...
Update:7 hours 45 min
Big Jolly Politics
Municipal court revenue stayed high though traffic tickets, warrants, plummeted Grits has remarked in the past that the number of traffic tickets given by Texas law enforcement has precipitously dropped in recent years....
Update:15 hours 14 min
Grits for Breakfast
Letting judges waive fines up front for indigent defendants makes sense Grits was happy to see Rep. James White's HB 50, making a simple but needed change in Texas statutes surrounding indigency and payment of...
Update:16 hours 13 min
Grits for Breakfast
First Waco biker case headed to trial in January The absurdist mockery of justice going on surrounding the Twin Peaks biker cases - in which  154 bikers were indicted on first-degree...
Update:19 hours 8 min
Grits for Breakfast
Is it time for the Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan in Texas? by Jay Wall One casualty of the partisan rancor in the November elections was the Harris County judiciary. Sitting judges with...
Update:1 day 20 hours
Big Jolly Politics
Justin Yu To Close Oxheart, Spend Some Time in the Heights Next in the line of succession for the corner spot at 1302 Nance St. currently occupied by Oxheart: . . . well, something else. So says...
Update:2 days 10 hours
Swamplot
The Final Category of the 2016 Swamplot Awards: Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate We’ve come to the eighth and final category for this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. So far this week...
Update:2 days 11 hours
Swamplot
City Wants To Create Historic District To Protect What’s Left of Freedmen’s Town Historic District Following last month’s sudden brick relocation incident, Mayor Turner has announced a plan to make a plan to create a...
Update:2 days 14 hours
Swamplot
Swamplot Sponsor: Central Bank Our sponsor on Swamplot today is Houston’s own Central Bank. Thank you for the continuing support! Central Bank has 4 (central)...
Update:2 days 16 hours
Swamplot
Now Open: Nominations for Swamplot’s 2016 Neighborhood of the Year Award We’re almost done introducing the categories in this year’s Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. So far, we’ve...
Update:2 days 16 hours
Swamplot
Tweets
Karen Townsend | 4 years 6 months
"Patrick F. Kennedy is a career foreign service officer" - http://t.co/GOrCe0IS
Peter Corbett ✈ | 4 years 6 months
I'm at McCarran International Airport (LAS) w/ @almacy http://t.co/KvmId07i
KERA Public Media | 4 years 6 months
TONIGHT at 7pm on KERA TV: Presidential Debate: Learn more at PBS NewsHour. http://t.co/Z9kYdun8
PBS MediaShift | 4 years 6 months
Tech Snafus Make Bill O'Reilly/Jon Stewart 'Rumble' More of a Stumble http://t.co/4OfeBlrG (@kegill | @pbsmediashift) #rumble2012
Will Sullivan | 4 years 6 months
Great addition, been burned too much by bad subs. "Google Play Announces Free Trials For In-App Subscription Services" http://t.co/TOLgRVak
TxDOT | 4 years 6 months
I-35W/North Tarrant Express #constantcontact http://t.co/QDzrQumu
keyetv | 4 years 6 months
Serial shotgun robbers suspects arrested. http://t.co/ka8T4U9B
Karen Townsend | 4 years 6 months
Aren't State Dept career people suppose to be non-partisan? Not the political appointees, the career people. #Libya
© 2016 TEXAS WATCHDOG and USELABS. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use and Privacy Statement