by Matt Clarke
The family of an intoxicated man abandoned by Delaware County, Ohio, sheriff’s deputies at a Taco Bell before he wandered onto a highway and was fatally struck by a vehicle has settled a lawsuit against the county and several sheriff’s department officials for $300,000.
After several motorists reported a possibly impaired driver on I-71, sheriff’s deputies Derek Beggs and Christopher Hughes discovered Uriel Juarez-Popoca, 22, sitting in his pickup truck, which he had pulled off onto the grassy median. Beggs was recorded telling a highway patrol trooper who arrived a few minutes later that Juárez-Popoca looked at him “like, ‘I’m so drunk I can’t even figure out who you are.’ ”
Instead of taking Juárez-Popoca into custody and performing a blood or urine analysis to determine the cause and level of intoxication, the deputies made racially disparaging remarks to Juárez-Popoca, and Beggs told the trooper they were going to drive him to a nearby Taco Bell because “I figure they’ll have someone that interprets.” They also called in that they were going to drop Juárez-Popoca off at a Taco Bell, drove there, and let him out.
Juárez-Popocan was disoriented and confused at the Taco Bell. He wandered in and out of the restaurant. He asked the cashier to drive him back to his truck. He asked the restaurant manager to call the Sheriff’s Office, and she did so. She explained that Juárez-Popoca had been abandoned by deputies at her store, and she was having problems because he was so drunk and did not understand English. She advised that she had locked him out of the restaurant.
The Taco Bell was located on a four-lane highway. Juárez-Popoca wandered across the highway toward a Wendy’s and was almost struck by cars multiple times. Motorists reported the intoxicated man on the highway to the Sheriff’s Office.
The deputies returned to the Taco Bell about 20 minutes later. The manager told them Popoca had wandered across the highway to the Wendy’s, but they did not search for him. Instead, the deputies waited in the Taco Bell parking lot for about 15 minutes and then left.
About seven minutes later, several 911 calls reported a man walking in and out of traffic on the highway near the Taco Bell. The speed limit at that location was 55 mph. Ten minutes later, a 911 call reported traumatic injuries to the man who had been walking on the highway. Juárez-Popoca died from severely broken legs and blunt force trauma to the head, neck, and torso after being hit by a vehicle that was traveling on the highway.
Deputies Beggs and Hughes were initially fired because of their treatment of Juárez-Popoca. They contested the disciplinary action, so the county agreed to pay Hughes $10,000 to resign, removed any reference to the disciplinary action from both of their files, and provided them positive references. Both were subsequently convicted of crimes because of their treatment of Juárez-Popoca.
Aided by Cincinnati attorney Jennifer L. Branch, Juárez-Popoca’s estate filed a federal civil rights action against the county and Sheriff’s Office personnel. The case was settled for $300,000. The majority of the money will benefit Juárez-Popoca’s widow and two children who live near Mexico City.
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