Report: Cameron County inmate died during altercation

A report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office reveals that a Harlingen man who died at the county jail last month hit his head on a cement bench while jailers extracted him from a cell.

Texas law required the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department to file a custodial death report with the AG’s Office within 30 days of 42-year-old Gabriel Angulo Rivera’s March 26 death.

Rivera, of Harlingen, was in the Cameron County Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center on charges of failing to appear at a March 19 court hearing on a DWI charge and for child support violations. He was booked into jail on March 21.

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio previously told media outlets that Rivera became ill on March 26 and was transferred to Valley Baptist Medical Center where he was described as having become erratic.

Lucio said Rivera was sent back to the jail because of his behavior where his condition continued to worsen so he was again taken to the hospital where he died, media outlets have reported.

The Texas custodial death report, however, reveals that on March 25 at around noon Rivera assaulted a jailer.

“The necessary force was used to subdue inmate Rivera and county nursing staff sent Rivera to the hospital for medical clearance,” the report states.

After Rivera was medically cleared, he was returned back to his cell at 7:30 p.m.

The timeline in the custodial death report becomes unclear at this point in the narrative, but sometime between when Rivera was placed in the cell on March 25 at 7:30 p.m. and the morning of March 26, medical staff then observed Rivera punching and kicking a door in the booking area where he was being housed, the report states.

“Medical staff ordered detention officers to place Rivera in a padded cell for his own protection to keep him from further hurting himself,” according to the report. “When the transfer of cell was attempted, Rivera became combative and OC pepper spray was used on Rivera and officers entered the cell with a shield to protect themselves and subdue Rivera.”

The report states that jailers then used the necessary force to restrain Rivera and place him in mechanical restraints.

“Detention officers noted that Rivera injured his head during the attempt to subdue him by hitting his head on a cement bench causing injury,” the report states. “Rivera was placed on a restraint chair and taken to the booking area medical room to be seen by medical staff.”

That’s when he became unresponsive and officials at the jail removed him from the restraint chair and performed CPR.

“EMS was called and he was transported to Valley Baptist Medical Center and at approximately 8:01 a.m. on March 26, 2019, inmate Rivera was pronounced dead,” the report states.

A preliminary autopsy report says that Rivera suffered serious head trauma, which led to cardiac arrest.

The custodial death report notes that Rivera was handcuffed and wearing leg shackles at the time leading up to his death or during the events causing his death.

The Brownsville Herald also filed Texas Public Information Act requests with Cameron County and the Texas Department of Public Safety seeking police reports and any existing video footage of the events leading to Rivera’s death.

Both Cameron County and DPS have asked the AG whether they may withhold the information from public disclosure because of a pending Texas Ranger’s investigation.

Correction: Story has been updated to fix the headline