Laguna Heights family sues over father’s death at hands of police

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A federal court in Brownsville will handle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by family members on behalf of Rafael Vasquez Sr., who died in 2017 after a deputy constable placed him in a chokehold, the Brownsville Herald reported. 

The suit alleges that, not only was Vasquez an innocent bystander trying to help law enforcement officers, but that after he was injured, police threatened family members with Tasers to keep them from administering first aid.

The suit was initially filed in state district court in December but was moved to federal court on Feb. 5.

The complaint says that Vasquez and his wife, Rosaura Vasquez, left their Laguna Heights residence on Dec. 7, 2017, to get a burger for their son in Port Isabel when they saw a young man run out of the Laguna Market convenience store, fleeing from the unnamed Cameron County deputy constable.

The couple exited their vehicle to assist, with Rosaura Vasquez able to momentarily capture the suspect before he escaped. The deputy was then able to detain the suspect in the grass. The complaint says that the suspect tried to hide his hands under his chest as he lay face down. Rafael Vasquez Jr. arrived to help, and he and his father continued to assist the deputy in trying to get the suspect’s hands out from under his chest.

The suit says that Deputy Constable Jesse Estrada arrived and jumped on Vasquez Sr., assuming he was a suspect, and placed him in a chokehold. Estrada eventually released Vasquez Sr., who struggled to breathe and collapsed to the ground moments later. 

Port Isabel police officers arrived shortly afterward and threatened to use Tasers on the family if they tried to administer first aid, according to the complaint.      

“Neither of the two deputy constables or the two Port Isabel police officers at the scene offered Rafael any first aid as he lay on the ground struggling to breathe, other than calling an ambulance which arrived several minutes later,” the complaint states.

Vasquez Sr. died hours later of his injuries.

The complaint says that Rosaura Vasquez noticed that the body camera of the first deputy to respond had fallen off, so she picked it up and recorded the incident.

The lawsuit names Estrada, Precinct 1 Constable Pete Delgadillo, an unknown Cameron County deputy constable, Port Isabel Police Chief Robert Lopez and two unknown Port Isabel police officers, all being sued in both their individual and official capacities, the Herald reported.

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