Edinburg PD wrongful death lawsuit moved to federal court

 

EDINBURG — The city of Edinburg is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit against its police department that was filed by the family of a man who died in the back of a patrol vehicle.

The litigation, filed on behalf of Noreen Reyes, Brenda Marie Tamez and four minor children, accuses the police department of negligence for the death of Christopher Reyes, who died on June 18, 2017.

The city of Edinburg filed its motion to dismiss on Nov. 4, the same day the litigation was moved from state District Court to the federal level, court records show.

A custodial death report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office stated that Reyes’ wife called police just after noon that day because she said he was high on cocaine.

“His wife reported to officers that he was under the influence of cocaine and was throwing and breaking things around the house, making threats of assault and hallucinating that he was fighting three (3) men as he commenced to strike himself on the case and throw himself against the walls,” the report stated.

Authorities say he attempted to grab at the feet of officers and yelled at them to shoot him.

“Officers used minimal force necessary to effect the arrest and escorted him to the backseat of a marked police unit pending transport to a medical facility,” according to the report. “While inside the police unit awaiting transport, Christopher Reyes was yelling out threats to his wife and kicking the back door.”

He fell silent minutes later.

“Upon opening the door, they observed that he was lying sideways with the top half of his body wedged between the backseat and the driver side panel with his bottom half on top of the right side seat,” the report stated. “Christopher Reyes appeared to be purple in color and was not responsive.”

He was pronounced dead at 1:15 p.m., according to the report.

The lawsuit’s statement of facts differs from the custodial report in that Reyes’ wife called EMS and police to request a “civil standby” so her husband could be transported to the hospital for detoxification.

The custodial death report does not mention that, rather it says police were called to a “disturbance.”

Reyes’ surviving family alleged when police arrived they handcuffed the man and placed him face down on the back seat of a patrol car.

“When EMS arrived, officer Lejia told EMS that he will not release Mr. Reyes to be transported because Mr. Reyes is being combative then EMS left the scene,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the lawsuit, Reyes stopped breathing within 20 minutes of police arriving at the scene.

In its motion to dismiss, the city of Edinburg said the plaintiffs fail to state a claim and ask that the lawsuit be dismissed.

“In this case, as a preliminary matter, Plaintiffs do not identify a final policymaker. Second, Plaintiffs do not identify a custom, policy or practice which was the cause of an unconstitutional action,” the motion to dismiss stated. “Third, Plaintiffs offer no factual allegation of the moving force responsible for the alleged constitutional violation — in order for liability to attach, the policy, practice or custom, must be the ‘moving force’ which causes the unconstitutional action.”

The city of Edinburg also claims governmental immunity, arguing they cannot be sued for Reyes’ death.

An initial hearing in the case is scheduled for early January.

mreagan@themonitor.com