Video: Officials face charges for fight club at school

updated 8/13/2009 9:45:05 PM ET 2009-08-14T01:45:05

A former state employee responsible for some of Texas' most vulnerable people was convicted Thursday of injuring them during orchestrated fights at a state facility for the developmentally disabled.

Jesse Salazar, 25, was one of six former employees at the Corpus Christi State School charged in connection with an abuse scandal that police described as a "fight club."

The jury found Salazar guilty of intentionally causing injury to a disabled person, a third-degree felony. The trial immediately moved into the penalty phase. Prosecutors asked for the maximum of 10 years in prison, while Salazar requested probation.

For more than a year, authorities said, staff on the night shift in one of the Corpus Christi facility's dorms staged fights among the residents. They instigated the bouts with direct commands and pranks aimed at spurring the residents to turn on each other, police said.

Almost 20 videos of the fights were discovered in March when a cell phone containing the images was found at a clothing store and turned in to police. The four videos shown to jurors in Salazar's case were filmed in early 2008.

‘It was dumb’
One video showed a resident terrified, screaming while running around a room as another resident tried to hit him. Salazar could be seen filming the melee with his cell phone. In another video, Salazar appeared to tell a resident to push another far bigger resident to instigate a fight.

Salazar, testifying for the first time during the penalty phase, said he had grown close to some of the residents seen in the videos and was sorry for what happened.

"It was dumb," Salazar said. "I'm sorry for what took place and it shouldn't have happened." He blamed a lack of supervision at the facility that placed young, inexperienced staff in these positions and co-worker Timothy Dixon, who was older and physically intimidating. He also alleged that some supervisors were aware of the fights, but did not report it.

Investigators believe there were far more fights than those recorded on Dixon's cell phone.

Vincent Johnson, another former employee, pleaded guilty last week and received a two-year suspended jail sentence.

More indictments could be in the works. Corpus Christi Police Detective Curtis Abbott testified Thursday that the number of suspects in the case had risen to 12 and of those, cases had been prepared against at least three more than the six already charged.

The trial of another former employee, Stephanie Garza, is scheduled to begin Monday. It is unclear how it will proceed, because the district attorney granted her immunity in exchange for her testimony.

Former employees Johnson and D'Angelo Riley have pleaded guilty. Garza, Dixon and Guadalupe Delarosa Jr. await trial.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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