Willacy County DA challenges court to hold him in contempt
December 10, 2008
By Emma Perez-Trevino, The Brownsville Herald
The accuser became the accused Wednesday in a quiet Willacy County courtroom in Raymondville.
Amid pleas from Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra not to intervene, state District Judge J. Manuel Bañales stopped Guerra Wednesday from attempting the re-indictment of Vice-President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
The Nov. 17 indictments that a grand jury returned charged Cheney and Gonzales with profiting from private prisons, neglecting conditions and stopping inquiries into assaults. Lucio was charged with accepting fees from firms for services that he would not have been asked to provide if he weren’t senator.
Bañales, during the hearing of more than three hours, also removed Guerra from pursuing a case against the GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut, and Warden David Forrest, charged with murder and manslaughter in the 2001 beating death of Gregorio De La Rosa Jr. by two inmates in a prison under their control.
Saying that removing Guerra caused him “deep regret,” Bañales also told the embattled district attorney that he “violated” his oath by exhibiting bias, prejudice and conflict of interest to “such a high degree” that he could not prosecute the cases.
The ruling followed a contentious hearing in which Guerra refused to answer numerous questions and challenged the court to hold him in contempt and jail him.
Guerra urged Bañales not to manipulate the system, telling the judge that he did not have jurisdiction because the Nov. 17 indictments returned against Cheney, Gonzales, the GEO group, and Lucio already had been dismissed.
Guerra also told Bañales that he would be interfering with the constitutional role of a district attorney.
“When we circumvent the system, everything falls apart,” Guerra told the judge.
But Lucio’s attorney, Michael R. Cowen, argued that the senator had a right to an unbiased and disinterested prosecutor and not a prosecutor who has a vendetta against his client.
GEO co-counsel Tony Canales pointed to two sections of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure which require that a district attorney conducts himself in a manner that ensures a fair trial and presumption of innocence.
“That presumption of innocence has been breached by the state,” Canales told the judge.
Guerra said he had not determined if he would appeal the court’s ruling.
“This is totally, totally illegal,” Guerra said after the hearing.
GEO’s defense attorney David Oliveira hailed Bañales’ ruling. “It is a resounding victory for all the defendants who were wrongfully indicted,” he said. “Hopefully, it is the final chapter in this tragic story.”
Canales predicted victory even before the start of the proceedings. “I’m so confident about today’s hearing, I might not even pull out my computer,” he told fellow attorneys.
South Texas DA looks at West Texas prison riot
December 16 2008
A South Texas district attorney who tried to prosecute Vice President Dick Cheney for his investments in private prison companies is now trying to probe an inmate death and prison riot hundreds of miles outside his jurisdiction.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra said Tuesday he suspected a cover-up at a privately run prison in Pecos, some 600 miles northwest of his Raymondville office. Inmates at the prison rioted and held two prison employees hostage last week after the death of another inmate.
“This hostage thing, it’s probably going to end up it’s not true,” said Guerra, who acknowledged he had no evidence to show any wrongdoing. “More than likely all the information that is coming out is not true.”
Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez, whose deputies and other local and state law enforcement responded to the riot, said he hadn’t met with Guerra on Tuesday but had no idea what he was talking about.
“I think he’s got some sort of personal vendetta,” Gomez said of the prosecutor whose now-dismissed indictments of Cheney, state Sen. Eddie Lucio and Florida-based The Geo Group Inc. prompted a judge to bar him from appearing before a grand jury without the presence of a pro tem district attorney. “There were two hostages, they were prison employees.”
Gomez said masked inmates at the prison told hostage negotiators that the employees were not hostages, but being held by the inmates to keep police at bay. Gomez said an investigation, which includes trying to identify the inmates involved, is ongoing. He said it was unclear who, if anyone, would face charges for the riot and standoff.
Gomez said an autopsy of the deceased inmate is pending, but investigators believe the inmate either committed suicide or died of natural causes.
A telephone message left with the warden at the Pecos prison was not immediately returned.
Guerra, who is set to leave office at the end of the month after failing to win re-election earlier this year, said he won’t try to prosecute anyone in this case, but hopes his successor and Ward County District Attorney Randall W. “Randy” Reynolds will take up the investigation.
“This is not an isolated incident,” Guerra said.
Reynolds was not in his Pecos office Tuesday and did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.