EDITORIAL: Wrong target

Lucio’s focus on video source instead of incident recorded

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio is offering a reward for information. This isn’t a Crime Stoppers effort to find violent offenders, however; Lucio is looking for a snitch.

The sheriff is offering $5,000 to anyone who can tell him who leaked jail video and who operates the Facebook page on which the video appears.

He should be more concerned about finding out what caused the incident depicted in the video, and whether any of his employees acted improperly.

The video, posted on the Facebook site JusticeRGV and dated July 8, purports to show a jailer spraying a chemical into the face of an inmate in a hallway at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Center. The video appears to have been taken by a standard surveillance camera installed in the hallway.

In the video, one jailer is accompanying an inmate toward the door to exit the hallway. The door opens and another inmate, accompanied by another guard, enters. As the two pairs of men pass inside the doorway the inmate entering the hall appears to reach for some papers the exiting jailer is holding, the jailer then strikes the inmate. The door closes without the first two men exiting the hallway.

The inmate who was struck takes several steps, then turns and appears to say something to the guard who struck him. At that point the guard advances toward that inmate while taking something out of his pocket — leaving the other inmate unattended at the door. The guard then sprays a substance into the face of the inmate, who begins rubbing his eyes and showing other signs of distress. The jailer pulls out a radio transmitter and speaks into it while returning to the inmate he had left at the door.

The video ends as the door reopens and a third jailer appears to run into the hallway.

It’s unknown what Lucio plans to do with the information. JusticeRGV has stated that it received the video anonymously and does not know who sent it. Public information laws offer protections for news media

that receive such information. Blogs are relatively new and it’s unclear if they can claim the same protections. Most laws, however, focus on the information, not the medium, and make little distinction between the news media and anyone else who requests or acquires information; the sheriff’s office might be hard-pressed to justify using taxpayers’ money trying to bribe somebody to rat out a snitch — or expose a whistleblower, depending on one’s point of view.

Instead, Lucio’s office should focus on the incident itself. Did the jailer’s actions go beyond any response the provocation might have warranted? Why did the second jailer allow the inmate to stop, rather than keep him moving through the hallway?

The sheriff might simply be trying to cover up an incident he finds embarrassing. At this point, however, he risks even further embarrassment from the cover-up.

Omar Lucio lost his bid for reelection in the Democratic Party primary. He should endeavor to leave his office in a condition that would elicit praise from his successor, rather than allow a petty effort to weed out the source of information that could help lead to a thorough review and reform of how the Cameron County jail system is being managed.