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GEO Group Settles $47.5 Million Texas Prisoner Wrongful Death Suit

On January 7, 2010, GEO Group settled a lawsuit over the beating death of a prisoner in Willacy County, Texas that had already resulted in a jury verdict of $47.5 million – one of the largest prisoner wrongful death awards in the nation.

Gregorio de la Rosa, Jr., 33, was incarcerated at a private prison in Willacy County operated by Wackenhut Corrections, now known as GEO Group. He had been honorably discharged from the National Guard and was serving a six-month sentence for possession of cocaine. A few days before he was due to be released, de la Rosa was beaten to death by two other prisoners armed with locks tied to socks; Wackenhut guards stood by and watched the fatal assault while the wardens smirked and laughed.

De la Rosa’s family filed a lawsuit against Wackenhut and Warden David Forrest in state court. A jury awarded the family $47.5 million, and the defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed in April 2009 but reduced the award to $42.5 million because one of de la Rosa’s family members had died. See: Wackenhut Corp. v. De la Rosa, 305 S.W.3d 594 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi 2009) [PLN, June 2009, p.10; Feb. 2007, p.34].

The Court of Appeals found that the jury’s large award of punitive damages was justified by “the horrific facts of the case, including Wackenhut’s malicious and grossly negligent conduct, the gruesome manner in which Gregorio was killed, and Wackenhut’s behavior in attempting to cover up its liability” by destroying critical evidence, including video footage of the incident.

The confidential settlement between the parties resulted after the scathing Court of Appeals opinion was released.

“I am pleased to have brought justice to the de la Rosa family and I am honored to have made a positive contribution to Texas law for the future protection of our people,” said Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, who represented the family members. See: De la Rosa v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp., 404th Judicial District Court, Willacy County (TX), Case No. 02-110.

Source: Brownsville Herald

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Related legal case

De la Rosa v. Wackenhut Corrections Corp.