RGC to pay nearly $100K in excessive force case

As part of a settlement agreement reached in an excessive force case filed against Rio Grande City, the city agreed to pay nearly $100,000 to a woman who was shot with a stun gun by police in 2014.

The city agreed to pay $99,500 to Julissa Peña, the woman whom a Rio Grande City police officer allegedly shot with a stun gun outside the police department as she attempted to flee from them.

The funds for the payment were to be paid out by the city’s insurer, Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool, according to the agreement obtained by The Monitor. For her part, Peña agreed to release the city of any and all liability stemming from that incident on June 30, 2014.

Peña’s parents had driven her to the police department that day and, eventually, a Rio Grande City juvenile officer, Humberto Vela, approached the family’s car. However, many details of what occurred were under dispute.

What is known is that Vela, at one point, called in a report of a “domestic in progress” and requested assistance, after which Lt. Jose Solis, officer Rosa Salinas and officer Ana Balderas Ramirez arrived at the scene.

Peña eventually ran off and Salinas and Solis chased after her. Solis allegedly ordered Salinas three times to use the stun gun on Peña, and “without stopping to properly aim, Salinas fired her Taser at Peña,” the court documents state.

The stun gun prongs lodged into her back and scalp, the 5th Circuit opinion stated, and she fell face first, striking the pavement.

Peña allegedly sustained several injuries including broken front teeth; lacerations to her chin, cheek and forehead; a minor scar above her upper lip; bruises, burns and cuts to her right arm, both legs and knees and right foot; and lacerations above her left breast that purportedly left minor scars.

She also reported experiencing headaches shortly after the incident.

Peña was taken to the hospital for treatment, but upon her discharge, she was taken to jail and booked for evading arrest and resisting arrest.

In August 2015, she sued the city in state district court, but the case was moved to federal court in February 2016.

It was there that U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez granted a summary judgment in favor of the city and the officers in March 2019, effectively dismissing the case.

Alvarez made the ruling on the basis of qualified immunity and found that a summary judgment was proper in the case because there was no genuine dispute as to material facts in the case.

But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and in June 2020 it overturned Alvarez’s ruling, arguing there was a dispute in material fact given the differences in the young woman’s and the officers’ accounts of what happened.

Back at the trial court, the parties filed a joint motion to dismiss the case Oct. 28 after reaching a settlement agreement.

The parties clarified that the agreement is not an admission of liability on the part of the city, the police officers, elected officials, or other agents of the city “as they all specifically deny liability,” the agreement states.

The agreement added that “defendants do not, by making this agreement and the payment called for herein, admit any liability, negligence or fault in connection with this incident.”