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Black Marks Against Bexar County Jail

Feb 25th, 2010 | Category: Bexar County, Conditions in County Jails

By the Current staff

For too many, abuse at the hands of authority begins early. For Jimmy Aldana III, now at Bexar County Jail awaiting trial on charges of burglary and possession of marijuana, it started at Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon, Texas, where he was incarcerated for three years.

“Guards doing things to kids. Having the youth do things to other youth — or else,” Mary Jane Martinez, Aldana’s mother told the Current this week. “It was very hard for him to trust anyone. … A lot of things. Bad things.”

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice identified Victory Field as having some of the highest levels of sexual abuse of children in the nation. With the abuse at Texas Youth Commission facilities around the state exposed a few years ago, TYC is supposedly in the midst of reformation, but it came too late for Aldama. As Grits for Breakfast reported in 2007, the TYC found that 83 percent of minors who were formerly incarcerated with TYC and who reported abuse and eventually received counseling were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

And yet Martinez has been stymied in her effort to get mental-health assistance for her son. On December 12, State Representative José Menéndez asked the Texas Rangers to look into Martinez’s allegations of abuse at the Bexar County Jail, and added that he had already contacted the Center for Health Care Services for a psychiatric evaluation of Aldana “at the earliest possible time.” Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz replied on December 16 that due to “ongoing litigation” with Martinez he had been advised by the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office not to discuss the issue. “I do want to thank you for your prompt action on behalf of Ms. Martinez and her son,” Ortiz wrote. “I can assure you that, as an elected official, I have the same obligations and concerns for the feelings of the citizens of San Antonio.”

No lawsuit has been filed in the case, Martinez said.

Aldana had a trial date last month, when Martinez and Aldana had hoped to request new legal counsel, but their court-appointed attorney, Therese Huntzinger, didn’t show for court. She had taken on the defense of 18-year-old Joe Estrada Jr., convicted this month of murdering Viola Barrios, owner of popular Los Barrios Mexican Restaurant, and successfully had the venue changed to Victoria. Huntzinger was flip about not showing up for Aldana.

“Remember the early part of this conversation?” she said. “I can’t be in court at Sharon Macrae’s for a trial setting for Jimmy; I’m down here.

“I kind of gave Judge Macrae the out and said, ‘Listen, I’m going to be busy for the next couple months’.”

On the topic of alleged abuse by guards, Huntzinger said, “His mother’s not real happy with me, so she probably didn’t tell me about that.”

During Aldana’s time with Bexar County, official grievances have cut both ways. Jail records cite Aldana for fighting with other inmates, flooding his jail cell repeatedly, and other acts of misconduct, including possible involvement in a 2009 cell fire. But Aldana has also been victimized. In one instance, a guard opened his cell door, allowing several inmates to swarm in and beat him and his cellmate. His mother also alleges that a jail guard beat Aldana and his cellmate, and that guards have threatened her son over the political waves she has been stirring up on his behalf.

Last week, Aldana was charged with setting a fire at the jail and got his mugshot on TV. Under double-doored “super-segregation,” Aldana has not been allowed to see his mother and is denied access to writing materials, Martinez said. However, he was able to get a message to her denying he set the fire. He said a hot-water heater caught fire and that he was one of two inmates sent to the hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.

Responding to a request for information from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Sergeant Elisa Gonzalez wrote in November that neither Aldana nor his cellmate have filed any official grievances about abuse by guards, only about minor commissary disputes.

Adan Muñoz, executive director of the TCJS, responded to Martinez’s organization — the Judicial, Criminal and Social Justice Coalition — saying that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department would determine if “officer error” led to Aldana’s assault and “will administer appropriate discipline.” In all other matters, the case was closed, he said.

“My fear now is a mother’s instinct,” Martinez said. “It’s the fear of that phone call.”

Jail Administrator Roger Dovalina referred our call to the jail’s new public-information officer, who failed to produce any information before press deadline Tuesday.

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