Perez receives written reprimand from Sheriff Lopez

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Orange Grove Journal

One Jim Wells County Sheriff's Deputy received a written reprimand for an incident at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice earlier this month, when an inmate from the Jim Wells County jail was left unattended for nearly 20 minutes.

Sgt. Johnny Perez transported the inmate to the hospital for an undisclosed reason.

Sheriff's Department Administrator Ricardo Palacios couldn't recall the specific date in question or the name of the inmate taken to the hospital.

Perez spent several hours guarding the inmate, but as 7 p.m. approached, he began to communicate with the department that another officer needed to report to the hospital to replace him.

Perez was not the official officer on duty and was filling in on that shift for another officer. Perez works a second security-related job outside of the department.

Palacios said Perez tried several times to call the department and have someone relieve him at the hospital. Palacios said as many as three other officers were called and asked to relieve Perez.

At 7:10 p.m., Palacios said, Perez checked on the inmate, saw he was asleep, and left the hospital to go to his second job. By 7:25, Palacios said, another deputy was en route to the hospital. When he arrived, he checked on the inmate and saw that the individual was still sleeping, Palacios said.

"He was working as a favor for another deputy. Perez was supposed to be relieved at 7 p.m. but wasn't," Palacios said. "He was told by officials that night and he was aware of the consequences for leaving."

Palacios said leaving an inmate can be a terminal offense, but in this instance there were several mitigating circumstances.

He pointed out that Perez was not scheduled to work that night, that he was not the officer on duty that night, and Perez was only serving that night as a favor to another deputy.

He also said officials knew beforehand that Perez had a second job and was supposed to be relieved at 7 p.m. and said there was a breakdown in communication between Perez and at least two other individuals that night at the sheriff's department.

"The sheriff will determine, based on the information and mitigating circumstances, what action will be taken," Palacios said last Wednesday afternoon.

He said the sheriff could consider suspension or termination. Palacios also said other individuals involved could also face consequences. Palacios would not release the names of the other deputies involved.

Perez said last Thursday morning the matter was taken care of internally following an investigation.

He said he has already received a written reprimand and the case was closed.

"I was told there was only a 20-minute lag time between when I left and when the officer arrived," Perez said.

"The situation was partially my fault. It's already been taken care of."

When Palacios was called last Thursday, he said there had been no decision on the Perez incident.

When asked if he knew that Perez had received a written reprimand, he said, "I know now."

Palacios said all decisions come from the sheriff.

Sheriff Oscar Lopez did not return repeated calls last Thursday.