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Latest Developments from Willacy County

Drama in South Texas continues into the new year. In coming weeks a new grand jury will be impaneled to review findings of a former grand jury regarding the private prison firm the GEO Group and high level officials like Vice President Dick Cheney. Former Willacy County D.A. Juan Angel Guerra, whose term expired last month, is continuing to pursue an ethics complaint against state senator Eddie Lucio, J.R. (D-Brownsville). We recently posted that Guerra convinced a grand jury to indict the GEO Group, along with Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Lucio on murder charges for an in-custody death in 2001.

Those charges were dismissed by Distric Judge Manuel Bañales who also issued an order prohibiting Guerra from re-indicting the GEO Group and the other defendants. Guerra continue to pursue the indictment until he left office at the end of 2008, appealing to the Texas 13th Court of Appeals arguing that the Bañales order stripped him of his authority under the Texas Constitution.

According to the Brownsville Herald (Emma Perez Trevino, New Jury to review indictments, January 3, 2009):

For DA Pro-Tem Alfredo Padilla, whom Bañales appointed to assess these and fellow cases, tasks on his list this new year is to request the seating of a new grand jury.

"We'll be doing that within the next several weeks," said Padilla, who has left the Cameron County District Attorney's Office to re-enter private practice.
Guerra continues to move forward in attempting to hold officials accountable for the untimely death of a private prisoner who was set to released. The former DA has filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission for fees the elected official collected from the private prison profiteer.
"It is just not right," Guerra said of consulting fees that Lucio has received from private firms.
Additionally according to the Brownsville Herald,
Guerra filed a civil suit in Willacy County seeking to seize Lucio's 10.6-acre property in San Benito, alleging that it was purchased with money derived from the commission of a felony.
Regardless of any new developments it is interesting that Guerra has decided to take on the private prison system including public officials who directly benefit from their association with prison profiteers. Lucio was indicted on accepting fees for services that he would not have been able to provide if he had not been an elected official. Further, the ethics complaint that Guerra is continuing to pursue makes those same claims.

The outcome of this case may pose an interesting precedent for holding public officials and private prison companies accountable for the conditions of these facilities. As this case continues to unfold we will post latest developments here.