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Family of Texas Prisoner Murdered in Geo-Operated Prison Awarded $47.5 Million

On September 15, 2006, a jury in Willacy County, Texas awarded $47.5 million to the family of a prisoner who was murdered at a private prison operated by the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections). The Florida-based company was spun off from Wackenhut's parent corporation in 2003 [see PLN, June 2004, p.16].

Gregorio De La Rosa was just four days shy of completing a six-month sentence for a drug conviction when he was killed by two fellow prisoners at the 1,000-bed prison in Raymondville on April 26, 2001. According to the lawsuit, Daniel Sanchez and Pedro de Jesus Equia beat De La Rosa to death on the recreation yard with padlocks they had stuffed into socks.

De La Rosa's family sued for negligence, claiming his death was foreseeable. "Inmates had used these very same padlocks as weapons to beat other inmates before De La Rosa's beating death. It was conclusively foreseeable that inmates would use these padlocks as weapons," the lawsuit contended.

The jury agreed. Following a two-week trial, De La Rosa's family was awarded a staggering but appropriate $47.5 million verdict against the Geo Group and the prison's warden. It was the largest verdict in county history.

"The evidence was disturbing. It showed a failure to properly search, inadequate staffing, and improper response," said attorney Ron Rodriquez, who represented the De La Rosa family. The lawsuit also claimed the "Defendants had a pattern and practice of allowing beatings and fights between inmates for money, and a tradition of payback, whereby prisoners were beaten just before their release."

De La Rosa's assailants, Sanchez and de Jesus Equia, were charged with murder but pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Each was sentenced to an additional 20 years.

The Geo Group, which operates more than 50 prisons in several countries, has appealed the jury award. Geo's stock dipped slightly following the jury verdict but quickly rebounded. The company has a history of neglecting and abusing prisoners, as consistently reported in PLN. See: Gregorio de la Rosa, Sr. v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp., 404th Judicial District Court, Willacy County, Texas, Case No. 02-110. 

Additional Sources: Associated Press, San Antonio Express-News, CBS News

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Related legal case

Gregorio de la Rosa, Sr. v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp.