Uriel Juárez-Popoca was only 22 years old when two sheriff’s deputies in Delaware County, Ohio, found him sitting inside a parked pickup truck near Interstate 71. The man, who was an undocumented immigrant and spoke a little English, seemed disoriented and had trouble communicating with the officers.
The responsible thing for the officers to do in that situation would have been taking a sobriety test, call someone to pick up the young man or arrest him for drunken driving. However, Deputies Derek Beggs and Christopher Hughes did none of those things. Instead, they reportedly mocked him for his Mexican heritage, used racial slurs and told him he stank before spraying him with lots of deodorant.
Since neither of the deputies could understand him, they decided to drive him three miles to a Taco Bell — where solely Mexican people work and eat, apparently — and dumped him there. One of the cops even joked, “They gotta have someone in there who can interpret,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.
The restaurant eventually kicked out Juárez-Popoca, who was a father of two and worked three jobs to support his family back home, leaving him to wander alone along the highway. Less than an hour later, he died in a fatal car accident.
The tragic incident took place in 2013, but it took the victim’s family nearly five years to settle a $300,000 lawsuit against Delaware County.
“Uriel worked hard to support his children, wife, parents and sisters. He had been earning money so his family could build an oven to bake and sell bread in their small town in Mexico,” attorney Jennifer Branch, who represented Juárez-Popoca’s estate in the trial, told The Columbus Dispatch. “His family never expected that law enforcement officers would endanger his life by making a joke out of his Mexican heritage.”
The lawsuit alleged the authorities endangered Juárez-Popoca by abandoning him at an unknown location. The fact they used ethnic slurs made the entire thing even more horrible and heartbreaking.
“Rather, they placed Mr. Popoca in handcuffs and dropped him off at a Taco Bell as a perverse joke, even though Mr. Popoca was obviously disoriented and confused,” the 2014 lawsuit stated.
Juárez-Popoca worked in the Columbus area for years and used to send $2,500 to $3,000 a month back home so his little sisters could go to school and his family could start the small bread-making business.
The night of the accident, the victim’s blood-alcohol level was approximately 0.23 percent, which is almost three times the level when drivers are considered impaired in the state.
“They laughed about their ‘new amigo’ over the radio,” Branch continued. “Predictably, the Taco Bell manager locked Mr. Popoca out of the restaurant because he was intoxicated. He walked aimlessly along Route 36 when he was struck by a truck and killed. The force of being hit was so severe, he was knocked out of his shoes. He died almost instantly.”
Following the outrage over the incident, the sheriff’s department fired Beggs and Hughes. However, they were later allowed to “resign with no admission of guilt.”
Given that Juárez-Popoca’s salary was crucial for the family to survive, the settlement money will definitely prove helpful. However, as the attorneys pointed out, it would not bring the dead back.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Eric Thayer