The family of deceased man Uriel Juarez Popoca is suing the Delaware, Ohio Police Department for damages relating to the death of their loved one.
Popoca died on July 28th, 2012. On that night, police officers found Popoca in his car, which he’d parked on the median of a major highway. According to reports, he was clearly intoxicated when police found him.
Rather than take him into custody, officers decided to take Popoca to a nearby Taco Bell. The officers are heard on dashcam footage making the assumption that Popoca, who didn’t speak much English, could find someone to translate for him at the restaurant. But instead of waiting for Popoca to find someone to translate for him, they left him alone.
Soon after, a stranded Popoca made the decision to walk home. He was hit and killed by a car as he walked down a four-lane highway.
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Popoca’s family is suing the Delaware County police department, two former deputies, and one Ohio State Patrol officer for their handling of him on the night he died.
"This stands out as a truly outrageous failure by local law enforcement to do their basic duty of holding people safely," attorney Al Gerhardstein said. "It's just a really sick joke. A tragic joke."
The two deputies who handled Popoca on the night he died have already been fired. Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin wrote that the deputies displayed “a lack of maturity and professionalism” in their handling of the situation.
"A fundamental duty as a law enforcement officer should be the preservation of life and inherent in that is the obligation to put a citizen in a better place than where he or she was found — even if that place is in custody for their own safety or the safety of others," Martin said.
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But there is a bit of a twist in this story.
According to the attorney representing the police officers in the lawsuit, the officers actually did Popoca a favor by not taking him into custody. It is suspected – though not publicly confirmed – that Popoca was living in the country illegally. If true, taking him into custody would have likely resulted in his deportation. Here’s what attorney Sam Shamansky had to say about his client’s decision not to detain Popoca:
"There's no discrimination here," he said. "If you ask me, it could just as easily be said that deputies were giving him a major break by not taking him to jail, maybe in order to not have discriminatory actions taken against him, vis-a-vis deportation. As an observer trying to be independent, I would suggest that's way more plausible than that they were discriminating against him because he's Hispanic."
We’ll see whose side of the story rings true soon. The lawsuit, filed on January 8th, seeks unspecified damages.