Prosecutors plan to show jurors graphic videos Tuesday of forced late-night fights among developmentally disabled residents of a Texas state facility, as the first trial of a former employee gets under way.
Jesse Salazar, who worked at the Corpus Christi State School, sat silently Monday with his family looking on as lawyers whittled a pool of more than 100 prospective jurors down to a 12-member jury.
Salazar, 25, was charged with injury to a disabled person after being spotted along with other staff members in some of the almost 20 videos of forced bouts that police called a "fight club." Jurors will decide if he is guilty of the third-degree felony, which could carry a prison sentence of two to 10 years. Or they could find that he simply did not intervene to stop the fights, which could carry a jail sentence of six months to two years.
Salazar's trial was delayed for a month while co-defendant Timothy Dixon challenged whether the cell phone videos that were turned in to police could be admitted into evidence. Some of those videos are expected to be among the most compelling evidence at Salazar's trial.
11 staff identified, 6 charged
Eleven staff members were identified in the videos, and six were charged. The videos showed that residents were forced to fight each other for the staff's entertainment. Residents locked each other in choke holds, tumbled to the floor and were kicked and prodded by school employees.
Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Doug Mann ran through a list of potential witnesses Monday that included two of Salazar's former co-workers. Stephanie Garza, who was charged with the lesser crime of failing to intervene, has been promised immunity in exchange for her testimony — though the judge in her case has refused to approve that deal. Vincent Johnson pleaded guilty to reckless or negligent injury to a disabled person through omission last week and received a two-year suspended jail sentence.
D'Angelo Riley, 23, another former employee, pleaded guilty last month to three counts of causing injury to a disabled person, a third-degree felony, and is awaiting sentencing.
Adelaide "Addie" Horn, head of the agency charged with overseeing the state schools, had called the fights "unconscionable" and said the initial cause appeared to be a lack of supervision on the overnight shift. Guards to provide around-the-clock security were hired and trained. Horn announced in June that she would retire as Department of Aging and Disability Services commissioner at the end of August.