GEO Group

GEO Group remains quiet in face of criticism, but talks to investors about profits

Matt Pulle at Texas Watchdog has this follow-up from his story earlier this week on the GEO Group's connections to two Texas legislators. This time he muses on the GEO Group's silence on his story.  

In our story this week about how two Texas lawmakers have financial ties to the GEO Group, we tried to call the private prison company’s spokesperson Pablo Paez, particularly because we detailed the firm’s many troubles, including inmates’ deaths, riots and dangerous, filthy conditions. We never heard from him.

We don’t take it personally, though. Paez is apparently a man of few words.

In 2007, the Associated Press reported about the suicide of an Idaho man who was doing a stint in a GEO Group prison in Dickens County, Texas. Idaho had been sending its prisoners here to ease overcrowding in their own facilities. An Idaho corrections official referred to the particular GEO Group prison as “the worst facility he had ever seen,” and that it was beyond repair.

Paez declined to defend his company.

Within days, Idaho moved its prisoners out of Dickens County.

GEO Group was similarly mum when the company was indicted for murder in south Texas last year in the Gregario de la Rosa case. That case appears to be continuing after a $42 million civil judgment against the company was upheld last month, and a new grand jury may be looking into re-filing criminal charges in the case ("New jury to review indictments," Brownsville Herald, January 2). 

Still, there's one area in which GEO will talk - profits.  The company held its quarterly conference call today, which is available online for the curious to listen to.  We'll give a report on the company's investor call in the coming days.

25 GEO Prisoners Indicted for December Riot

The title says it all.  From the KWES ("25 Inmates Indicted in Connection to RCDC’s First Riot"),

The U.S. District Court in Pecos has released documents showing 25 inmates at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) were indicted for their part in the first riot at the prison.

The federal grand jury documents show those inmates conspired to cause the riot that broke out December 12th at RCDC buildings one and two.

Those inmates set fire to several buildings and held two workers there against their will for hours.

At the time, inmates said they were rioting because they wanted better healthcare and asked to speak with the Mexican consulate.

A second riot broke out about a month later on January 31st and lasted several days.

Both uprisings did millions of dollars in damage to the private prison near Pecos.

Of course, this story raise the real question - who at the GEO Group or Reeves County will be held accountable for creating the conditions that led this riot?  Prison riots don't just happen; they are a response to poor conditions and poor security, two things that seem to be increasingly endemic to the GEO Group's Texas operations. 

See our previous coverage of the Reeves County Detention Center: 

Another Death at GEO's RCDC,  March 27, 2009

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008

Court Upholds $47 Million Verdict Against GEO Group in de la Rosa Murder Case

The Thirteenth District Court of Appeals has affirmed a $47.5 (update, according to the Express-News, the judgment was actually $42.5 million) $42.5 million lawsuit judgement against the GEO Group to the family of Gregorio de la Rosa.  The court found that "Wackenhut’s conduct in maliciously causing Gregorio’s death and thereafter spoliating critical evidence so offends this Court’s sense of justice that a high ratio is warranted." 

De la Rosa, who is represented by Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, was brutally murdered in a GEO Group (then called Wackenhut) prison in Willacy County.  The first line of the court's judgment describes the case:

This case involves the horrific and gruesome death of Gregorio de la Rosa, Jr. (“Gregorio”). Gregorio, an honorably discharged former National Guardsman, was serving a six-month sentence at a prison operated by Wackenhut Corrections Corporation for possession of less than 1/4 grams of cocaine. A few days before his expected release, Gregorio was beaten to death by two other inmates using a lock tied to a sock, while Wackenhut’s officers stood by and watched and Wackenhut’s wardens smirked and laughed.

De la Rosa's case sparked the criminal indictment of GEO Group for murder in Willacy County last fall, a charge that was ultimately dismissed.   The appeals court opinion means that the bulk of the $47.5 million judgment will be awarded to de la Rosa's family.  According to the judgment , the company's testimony about the destroyed video evidence of de la Rosa's murder was inconsistent at best,

At trial, the family contended that a videotape existed that showed the beating but that this video had been lost or destroyed by Wackenhut.  Warden Forrest testified during his deposition that there was a video camera on one of the perimeter posts that was focused down on the beating.  In his sworn testimony, he admitted to seeing a tape of the beating and described the video and the beating in detail.  His stated that the video showed “that one inmate had beat another inmate with a sock filled with a lock,” and it showed an inmate kicking and punching Gregorio.

After reviewing his deposition, however, Warden Forrest changed his testimony, claiming that the video never existed.  At trial, he admitted to describing the video in his deposition testimony, but he claimed that his prior testimony describing the video was “based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information.” He explained that he had created his “own little movie” in his mind:

I did that based on all the information that I received regarding that incident over and over receiving information.  I put that picture—painted that picture in my head that I believed that’s what I saw, and that’s what I testified to, and I corrected it that day and at a later date. . . . I described what I thought I saw based on the information of everyone telling me what happened.  I painted a picture of that incident in my mind, and I played it over in my mind many, many times since then.

This judgment is certainly not good news for the GEO Group, which has been rocked by scandal after scandal here in Texas.  We'll keep you posted on developments on this case and other GEO scandals.

Another Death at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center

The GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center was home to another prisoner death.  According to a story on KRGV ("Valley family speaks out about relative's death in Pecos prison," March 20), Jose Manuel Falcon died while in custody at Reeves earlier this month.

A Rio Grande Valley family continues to search for justice after their nephew died while serving time in a private West Texas prison.

Jose Manuel Falcon was two months shy of his release from the Pecos prison when he died. The 32-year-old died Thursday, March 12, at the Reeve County Detention Center.

Falcon spent five years there. Family members called it a harsh sentence for being caught illegally in the U.S. without papers.

A GEO Group statement has confirmed Falcon's death, and claimed that he died of suicide, though the Texas Rangers have not reached a conclusion, according to KRGV ("Pecos Prison Death," March 20),

A spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison company that runs the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos released a statement to NEWSCHANNEL 5.

The statement reads: On March 5, 2009, at approximately 6:40PM, inmate Jose Manuel Falcon took his life by self inflicting numerous lacerations with a disposable razor blade. At the time of the incident the inmate was in a single cell and there is no evidence of foul play. In accordance with state law, the custodial death of inmate falcon was investigated by the Texas Rangers and it has been determined through the investigation that the death was suicide.

A Texas Rangers spokesperson tells NEWSCHANNEL 5 they still consider Falcon's death an open case.

Falcon's family was not convinced, saying that they believe that he was murdered in the facility.  Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is representing many of the detainees at Reeves agrees, according to a report at KRGV ("Family Says Son Murdered In Prison," March 19th).  

Thirty-two-year-old Jose Manuel Falcon died last Thursday at the Reeve County Detention Center in Pecos. The prison promises a report on the official cause of death by this Thursday. His mother and Attorney Juan Guerra say they're positive he was murdered behind bars.

Santos Aguallo says the prison officials told the family he committed suicide. But she says it doesn't make sense, since he was just two months away from being released.  Attorney Juan Guerra was outside the prison in Pecos protesting what he calls dangerous conditions at the privately-run facility at the time of the death. He says from what he saw, Jose Manuel Falcon died a violent death.

"It's very obvious he has defensive wounds. As a prosecutor, you look at his hands and he has, where he was defending himself, so this was not a suicide. This was a murder. Someone killed him inside," Guerra claims. 

Whether Falcon died of suicide or a murder, it is not a good sign for the troubled facility.  A protest of family members is being planned for this Saturday, March 28th, at 10am in front of the prison.  In addition, see Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Jail Project's press release with recommendations that include:

  1. An investigation into conditions at the facility by the U.S. Department of Justice;
  2. Allowing the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to inspect the facility;
  3. Transparency and accountability during the investigation process;
  4. Visitation access for attorneys, family members of prisoners, and human rights organizations

We'll keep you posted on developments from Reeves County.  In the meantime, see our previous coverage of the facility:

GEO Riots Could Cost Reeves County More than $1 Million, February 27, 2009

Family Members Protest GEO Group in Reeves County, February 14, 2009

Reeves County Denies Access to GEO Prison to Attorney Juan Guerra, February 12, 2009

Reeves County Detention Center on Fire Again, February 6, 2009

Second Riot in Two Months Leaves Injuries, Significant Damage, February 4, 2008

Riots and Mysterious Deaths at GEO's Reeves County facility, December 22, 2008

 

 

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