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County wants lawsuit over escaped inmate murder dropped

September 21, 2018

The widow of a man murdered by an escaped Cameron County inmate is not a prisoner. She’s also not involuntarily institutionalized or a child in foster care.

So she’s not entitled to relief from the death of her husband killed at the hands of prisoner Michael Diaz Garcia, who overpowered a single jail guard transporting the man in violation of the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department’s own policy requiring two guards to transport inmates to medical appointments, according to a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought against the county, its sheriff and a jail guard.

The lawsuit was filed by Maria Mercedes Cancinco on behalf of herself and the estate of Mario Martinez, along with Julian Puga, against Cameron County, Sheriff Omar Lucio and transportation officer Antonio Tella.

It alleges Martinez’s death was the result of a state-created danger, with Cameron County displaying deliberate indifference and actual knowledge to a known risk of danger, violating Cancino, Martinez and Puga’s constitutional right to be free from state-created danger.

According to Cameron County, it only has a duty to protect prisoners, people who are involuntarily institutionalized and children in foster care from state-created dangers so the county had no legal duty to protect the trio from violence from Garcia, who the county describes as a third party.

“As such, the Defendants owe no legal duty to protect Plaintiffs from violence from a third party, even if the third party is an escaped prisoner,” the motion to dismiss states.

Mario Martinez, 56, died on June 8, 2017, as he was about to sit down for lunch with some friends after Garcia attacked Tella, stole his service weapon and escaped, then forcibly entered into the residence and demanded a vehicle and keys from Martinez, who attempted to calm Garcia down.

“Mr. Garcia fired Antonio Tella’s handgun at Mr. Martinez, wounding him, and leading to Mario Martinez’s eventual death,” the lawsuit states. “Maria Mercedes Cancino, who witnessed the shooting of her husband, was then held at gunpoint by Mr. Garcia and forced into the room occupied by Julian Puga.”

Garcia then fled in the car, led authorities on a chase and was shot to death by police near San Benito.

That motion to dismiss argues that Garcia is a private person who attacked another private person. He was not a state agent and Cameron County, Lucio and Tella had no idea he would specifically harm Martinez, according to the motion to dismiss.

And Cancino, Martinez and Puga don’t argue that Garcia singled out Martinez to attack, but that the man was a victim of a random act of violence, the motion states. As such, Cameron County, Lucio and Tella are not liable, according to the motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit, however, argues that plenty of information existed that showed Garcia had violent tendencies.

He was convicted on May 19, 2017, on four counts related to a “violent criminal episode” on Feb. 14, 2016. Those convictions included one count of burglary of a habitation and three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Court records also indicate he was scheduled for sentencing 11 days from the day Garcia escaped and killed Martinez.

Lucio, however, said Garcia displayed no signs of violent behavior while he was in custody.

A day after the attack, Lucio said the sheriff’s department would immediately enforce its policy requiring two police officers to accompany inmates seeking medical treatment outside the detention center.

If a federal judge doesn’t dismiss the lawsuit, Cameron County asked that the judge order the plaintiffs to file a more definite statement of claims, court records show.

Cancino, her late husband, Martinez, and Puga, who was inside the house at the time of the attack, are seeking damages from the violent episode that they say left them with severe emotional distress and mental anguish requiring extensive therapy and medical assistance that is expected to continue into the future indefinitely.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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