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Tellez v. The Geo Group Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas

August 1, 2017

RAYMOND TELLEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEO GROUP INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Raymond Tellez, formerly an inmate at the Central Texas Detention Facility, brings (his negligence action against defendant The GEO Group, Inc. ("GEO"), [1] which operates the Central Texas Detention Facility, in connection with a stabbing assault perpetrated by other inmates that he suffered while an inmate at the Central Texas Detention Facility. Mr. Tellez originally brought claims for negligent supervision (of inmates), lack of supervision or training (guards), and negligent implementation of security policies or procedures. On February 9, 2016, Magistrate Judge Primomo recommended that summary judgment he granted in favor of defendant as to Mr. Tellez's negligent training and supervision claims [ECF No. 30]. He recommended that summary judgment be denied, however, with respect to Mr. Tellez's claims regarding failure to implement security policies or procedures. On August 15, 2016, Judge Biery adopted this Report and Recommendation and granted summary judgment in favor of defendant as to Mr. Tellez's negligent training and supervision claims and denied summary judgment as to Mr. Tellez's claim concerning negligent implementation of a policy/regulation [ECF No. 46].

         This case was tried to the Court on January 4, 2017. The Court has considered the evidence presented at trial, the parties' proffered facts, the arguments of counsel, and the controlling legal authority. The Court has also ascertained the credibility of each witness and evaluated the probative value of all relevant evidence admitted at trial. Based upon the foregoing, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law. It concludes that defendant The GEO Group was negligent in failing to implement several policies and is therefore liable to Mr. Tellez. The Court will award damages totaling $25, 000.

         I. FINDINGS OF FACT

         Defendant the GEO Group, Inc. operates the Central Texas Detention Facility. Mr. Tellez is an inmate who, in October 2013, was incarcerated at the Central Texas Detention Facility while awaiting sentencing. He had been arrested and charged with intent to distribute a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on May 17, 2013. Several months later, his drug charge was changed from cocaine to methamphetamine and he was charged under a superseding indictment. On June 1, 2016, he was charged in a one count information with participating in a racketeer influenced and corrupt organization ("RICO") conspiracy. The pattern of racketeering activity included four murders, extortion, and the distribution of narcotics. Mr. Tellez agreed to plead guilty to these charges, but has not yet been sentenced.

         Prior to his incarceration, Mr. Tellez was a "general" in the Texas Mexican Mafia. As such, he was the highest ranking member in San Antonio, with approximately 4, 000 individuals under his command. While incarcerated, Mr. Tellez began cooperating with the government, becoming a confidential informant against the Mafia. He has testified against several members of the Mafia, resulting in their incarceration, and, at the time of trial, was expected to testify against two more. The Mafia's penalty for this cooperation is death. Tiros, all 4, 000 of the Mafia members previously under Mr. Teller's command were essentially instructed to kill him.

         This placed him at a higher risk of being assaulted by other inmates. As a result, he was kept in protective custody, with instructions to keep him away from all other inmates. Mr. Tellez was thus held in a cell on the first floor in the medical department. The medical department consists generally of three areas: 1) the main medical area/waiting area; 2) medical left; and 3) medical right. Medical left-the female side-consists of eight ceils, a guard's desk, and a shower area. Medical right-the male side-consists of three cells and a shower area. The main medical area/waiting area contains a guard's desk. The three areas are oriented as follows; if one enters the medical department, they will be standing in the main medical area/watting area, facing the guard's desk in the center. The entrance to medical left is to the left of the guard's desk. The entrance to medical right is to the right of the guard's desk. Both are along the same wall behind the guard's desk. Medical left and medical right are separated from the main medical area by locked doors. Mr. Tellez was held in Cell 2 in medical right. The shower area was located across from him.

         On October 24, 2013, two other inmates- -Roland Contreras and Randy Oonzal es-were transported to the medical area. Inmates Contreras and Gonzales are members of die Mexican Mafia, who, like other members of the Mexican Mafia, sought to punish Mr. Tellez for his cooperation. Due to this affiliation, they were housed in administrative segregation...........separate from the general population-and were considered threats to other inmates. Because of their status as inmates housed in administrative segregation, according to GEO policy at the time of the assault, inmates Contreras and Gonzales were supposed to be strip searched before being transported out of their cells. GEO Officer Victoriono Chavarria was responsible for conducting the strip search, They were not strip searched on October 24, 2013. They were also supposed to be pat searched upon arriving at the medical department. Officer Dianne Corona was responsible for conducting the pat search. They were not pat searched on October 24, 2013.

         Once in the medical area, inmate Contreras' restraints were partially removed by Nurse Mary Garcia for a foot soak treatment, so that at least one hand was free and uncuffed. This was contrary to GEO policy, under which inmates Contreras and Gonzales were supposed to have been restrained by leg and hand restraints. Nurse Garcia had been instructed on previous occasions that restraints were not to be removed from inmates kept in administrative segregation-such as inmates Contreras and Gonzales- without a doctor's order and authorization from the duty warden.

         On the evening of October 24, 2013, GEO Officer Candace Lundquist was on duty in the medical department She was responsible for the main medical area, medical left, and medical right. During and around the time of the assault at issue, she was moving amongst the three areas, sometimes leaving the guard's desk in the main medical area unattended.

         Around 6:3.0 p.m., sometime after inmate Contreras5 restraints were removed, and while Officer Lundquist was in medical left-and therefore was absent from the main medical area where inmates Contreras and Gonzales were located-inmates Contreras and Gonzales got up, and walked through the door separating the main medical area from medical right, where Mr. Tellez was being housed. According to GEO policy, these doors were supposed to be kept locked. On the evening of October 24, 2013, however, they were not locked. This fact was known to GEO employees. At the time, Mr. Tellez was in the shower. He was attacked by inmates Contreras and Gonzales. Inmate Contreras stabbed Mr. Tellez with a sharpened object, i.e., a shank, while inmate Gonzales acted as a lookout Mr. Tellez was stabbed several times and suffered several stab wounds and abrasions. He suffered from puncture wounds to the right: chest, right armpit, right rib cage, right front leg, right lumbar, and rear right leg. He suffered abrasions to the top of his head. neck, right lumbar, and rear right leg.

         After the assault, Mr. Tellez, was placed in his cell where an initial assessment was conducted by Nurse Garcia. Forty-five minutes later, he was taken to an assessment room for evaluation. Mr. Tellez was able to walk to these locations. His wounds were checked and cleaned, but he was not given any pain medication. Dr. Samuel Morgan, the facility physician, recommended that due the nature of Mr. Tellez's injuries and the lack of ability to assess the extent and severity of his injuries, Mr. Tellez be transferred off site for further assessment, but that there was no need for an ambulance because Mr. Tellez's injuries were not life threatening. Mr. Tellez was transported to the hospital by facility vehicle around 8:00 p.m. He waited for approximately one hour at the hospital before receiving treatment. Three of his stab wounds were closed with staples and he was placed on pain medicine for five days. Mr. Tellez was transported back to the jail and arrived at approximately 3:30 a.m. on October 25. The same day Mr. Tellez arrived back at GEO from the hospital-October 25, 2013, the day after the attack-he was transferred to Guadalupe County Jail, where he was housed in the medical department for two weeks.

         After conducting an investigation, GEO issued a report finding that Officers Chavarria and Lundquist committed acts of gross negligence in not following facility procedure. Officers Chavarria and Lundquist and Nurse Garcia were terminated as a-result of this incident.

         II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         A. Legal Standards

         The elements of a negligence claim are 1) the existence of a duty, 2) a breach of that duty, 3) proximate cause, and 4) damages. IHS Cedars Treatment Ctr, of DeSoto, Terns, Inc. v. Mason, 143 S.W.3d 794, 798 (Tex, 2004). As a general rule, "there is no duty to control the conduct of third parties, " Salazar v. Collins, 255 S.W.3d 191, 198 (Tex. App. 2008). An exception applies, however, "when a special relationship exists between an actor and another that imposes a duty on the actor to control the other's conduct." Id. At least one Texas Court of Appeals has determined that prisons and jails have a special relationship with inmates in their custody which imposes on them a duty to protect inmates from other inmates in certain circumstances. See id at 198-203. Specifically, prisons "owe a duty of reasonable care to protect inmates from harm [at the hands of other inmates] when that harm is reasonably foreseeable.- Id. at 203; sec also Mhmeci v. Pollard, 565 U.S. 118, 128 (2012) (citing Salazar as "specific authority indicating that state law imposes general tort duties of reasonable care (including medical care) on prison employees in every one of the eight States where privately managed secure federal facilities are currently located"); Doe v. The Ceo Grp., Inc., No. SA-16-CV-173-XR, 2017 W.L 835209, at *5 (W.D. Tex. Mar, 2, 2017) (citing Salazar and stating "Texas law might impose a duty of care on prison staff).

         The element of proximate causation has two sub-elements; cause in fact and for eseeability. IHS Cedars Treatment Ctr., 143 S.W.3d at 798 "Cause in fact is established when the act or omission was a substantial factor in bringing about the injuries, and without it, the harm would not have occurred." Id. at 799. "Foreseeability exists when "the actor as a person of ordinary intelligence should have anticipated the clangers his negligent act creates for others.'" Houston, Inc. v. Love, 92 S.W.3d 450, 454 (Tex. 2002).

         B. Analysis

         The Court finds that Mr. Tellez has demonstrated all of the elements of a negligence claim. /. Duty First, GEO owed Mr. Tellez a duty to protect him from attack in these circumstances. GEO knew that as a government cooperator working against the Mexican Mafia, Mr. Tellez was in danger of being attacked. Mr. Tellez was thus to be kept in protective custody away from all other inmates. The inmates who attacked Mr. Tellez were members of the Mexican Mafia who were considered to be threats to other inmates. As such, they ...


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