BROWNSVILLE, Texas (CN) — The widow of a man who was shot to death by a fugitive who escaped after attacking a jailer sued a Texas sheriff Wednesday for straying from a policy of having two officers escort dangerous inmates.
Maria Mercedes Cancino sued Cameron County, its Sheriff Omar Lucio and Officer Antonio Tella in federal court, on behalf herself and the estate of her late husband, Mario Martinez.
Cancino, represented by Brownsville attorney Ed Stapleton, says in the lawsuit that due to a staffing shortage Tella was the only officer assigned to drive inmate Michael Diaz Garcia from the Cameron County Detention Center to a dental clinic in Brownsville on June 8, 2017.
Diaz Garcia made his move in the clinic parking lot. He wriggled free from his shackles and slashed at Tella’s neck with a homemade shank, grabbed Tella’s Glock .40-caliber pistol and fled, according to the lawsuit and media reports.
Diaz Garcia swam across a resaca, a horseshoe-shaped lake, and entered the unlocked home of Blanca Puga, where Puga’s son, Julian Puga, and Cancino and her husband were about to eat lunch, the Valley Morning Star newspaper reported in at the time.
“Mr. Garcia demanded a vehicle and keys from Mario Martinez, who attempted to calm Mr. Garcia down,” the lawsuit states.
Garcia shot Martinez. As Martinez bled to death, Garcia forced Cancino at gunpoint into Julian Puga’s room. Julian Puga, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit, gave Garcia the keys to his mother’s car, according to the complaint.
Garcia led police on a 20-mile high-speed chase to an industrial park in San Benito. He exchanged gunfire with police and was shot twice in the stomach. Garcia, 38, died at a hospital.
Cancino says in the lawsuit that Sheriff Lucio knew Garcia was violent, as he had been jailed on home burglary and aggravated assault charges.
The month before the incident, Lucio told The Brownsville Herald that over the preceding three years his department had lost 45 deputies and 302 detention officers. Due to the understaffing, Cancino says, Lucio disregarded his department’s policy of transporting dangerous inmates with two jailers.
Cancino and Julian Puga say in the lawsuit that they still need therapy as they are suffering from severe emotional distress from the killing.
They seek punitive damages, claiming the county and Lucio violated their 14th Amendment due process right to be free from “state created danger,” and the sheriff’s department had an informal inmate-transport policy that endangered the public.
A Cameron County staff attorney did not immediately respond Thursday morning to a request for comment.