In a searing opinion, the 13th Court of Appeals has upheld $42.5 million in punitive damages against a private prison operator for the “horrific and gruesome death” of inmate Gregorio De La Rosa Jr. in 2001.
De La Rosa was beaten to death by two other inmates at a 1,000-bed facility in Raymondville while guards and supervisors looked on, according to trial testimony three years ago.
The trial judge concluded that prison officials, including co-defendant David Forrest, the prison warden, had destroyed or lied about critical evidence, including a videotape of the fatal beating.
When De La Rosa died, he had only four days left to serve on a six-month sentence for a minor drug offense.
In the appellate court's ruling late last week, it upheld all but $5 million of the original $47.5 million jury award, noting, “We find Wackenhut's conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state's civil justice system.”
Wackenhut Corrections Corp. later became the Geo Group, which operates about 50 private prisons in five countries, including 19 in Texas. Lawyer Reagan Simpson, who represented Geo, did not return a call seeking comment.
Ronald Rodriguez of Laredo, who sued Wackenhut on behalf of De La Rosa's family, said the appellate court sent “a clear message to the Geo Group that it will not tolerate (its) intentional malice, trickery and deceit, and attempted manipulation of the judicial system.”