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Jury acquits ex-officer accused of punching man in custody

July 12, 2018

EDINBURG — A jury on Wednesday acquitted a former Progreso police officer who had been charged with a misdemeanor assault.

Romero Amador Jr., 26, was found not guilty of assaulting a man during an arrest made by two of his fellow officers in September 2016. Amador, who was facing a charge of assault causing bodily injury, a Class A misdemeanor carrying up to a year in jail if convicted, is currently employed with the Progreso Fire Department.

The defendant remains a certified peace officer, although not currently employed by any police department, and has also served on the Progreso school board since spring 2017.

Two Progreso police officers, who like Amador are no longer with the department, arrested Miguel Angel Ibarra on Sept. 4, 2016, while Amador was off duty. Ibarra subsequently alleged that Amador, the brother of his former girlfriend, had punched him in the face while he was in the back of the patrol car, awaiting transport to the department.

The two-day trial was one of conflicting stories and accounts of the events leading up to, during and after Ibarra’s arrest. Amador’s sister called him to the scene because, according to her testimony, she wanted him there for her protection while officers Justin Becerra and Jesse Corona arrested Ibarra on an outstanding warrant for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Underscoring that neither Becerra nor Corona testified to seeing the assault, Amador’s attorney, David Willis, said in his closing argument that there were “too many versions of events” to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that his client assaulted Ibarra.

Rather, Becerra testified to seeing Amador close the patrol car’s door while Corona testified to seeing part of Amador’s body reaching into the vehicle.

Willis argued that it was possible Corona — a former mixed martial arts fighter and son of Al Perez, a candidate for county sheriff — used excessive force during the arrest and convinced Becerra to cover up for him rather than report Corona’s conduct to the department.

Becerra and Corona have since joined the Weslaco and Edcouch police departments, respectively, with the latter testifying he felt pressured to leave the Progreso department after the Texas Rangers began investigating the alleged assault.

The defense attorney further argued that Ibarra — whose testimony on the stand contradicted statements he made to the Ranger investigating the case, video of which was shown to jurors — lied because he wanted to sue the department. Ibarra is currently serving a four-year prison sentence on the assault charge for which he was arrested the day of the incident.

Assistant District Attorney Randy Lopez maintained throughout the trial that Amador had no reason to be at the scene, emphasizing to jurors that meddling in an investigation involving a family member was a clear violation of department policy.

Amador, who took the stand on the trial’s second day, testified to having previously been told by department leadership not to intervene in matters between his sister and Ibarra, given the department’s history of responding to calls involving the two.

As a result of Amador’s acquittal, the case against him is dismissed, which Willis said was the outcome both he and his client expected.

“I was 100 percent certain he, my client, never struck that man,” Willis said.

“The district attorney’s office doesn’t seek convictions, what we seek is justice. In any case where a jury comes to a decision, then that’s justice,” Lopez said after the verdict.

msmith@themonitor.com

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