La Joya settles lawsuit stemming from sexual assault claims

McALLEN — The city of La Joya has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a 38-year-old woman, who claimed she was sexually assaulted while in police custody, for $220,000.

The lawsuit, filed in May 2016, alleges the city failed to provide medical attention after she was assaulted in 2014 while detained at the La Joya jail. La Joya has not admitted liability.

The woman, who used the pseudonym Autumn Renee, was arrested by Peñitas police May 29, 2014 and placed in the La Joya jail pending arraignment. Peñitas does not have its own jail.

While in custody, she was assaulted by then-dispatcher Felipe Santiago Peralez III, according to the original complaint.

“There was a mediation and in a mediation I don’t think either party is 100 percent happy,” Reginald McKamie, the attorney for Renee, said of the settlement. “But she felt that she could move on with her life and that’s what she wanted to do. She just wanted to move on with her life.”

The assault was captured on video surveillance which was reviewed by then-Lieutenant Ramon Gonzalez the following day. He questioned Renee about the incident and she was later released to a Peñitas police officer. During this time, she claims she was denied medical attention by Gonzalez and other officers.

Gonzalez, who became police chief in 2015 before he was abruptly fired in December 2017, said her characterization of what happened was false.

“As far as medical assistance: it was offered; she refused it; she wanted to get out of there,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It was offered. I offered it to her several times.”

Gonzalez said he reported the assault to the police chief at the time, Geovani Hernandez, and reported it to the Texas Rangers when he felt nothing was being done.

The reason for his firing on Dec. 8 was not disclosed publicly, but Gonzalez speculated that it could be retaliation for his testimony in this case. Neither City Administrator Mike Alaniz nor La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas returned requests for comment for this story.

Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero said Tuesday that Peñitas, which was initially named as a defendant, was dismissed from the suit. Romero said he has maintained since the beginning that the city had “nothing to do” with what happened to Renee.

Peralez — who was in a relationship with Salinas’ granddaughter, Jordan “Pinky” Garcia — pleaded guilty to official oppression and violating the civil rights of a person in custody in October 2015 and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

He resigned from the police department a week after the alleged incident, citing personal reasons.

McKamie said his client “accomplished her goals” because the people she felt were responsible were no longer employed with the police department.

“She felt that by her lawsuit she had improved the system that hopefully nobody else will ever go through what she did,” McKamie said. “We think there were policy changes that occurred as a result of her coming forward; she was very brave to come forward.”