BCSO deputies sued after man dies while being booked into jail, records show

Attorney for family says deputies put Emmanuel Mora, 37, in ‘hog-tied’ position during ‘drug-induced delirium’

San Antonio – The family of a man who died while being booked into the Bexar County Jail say the two BCSO detention deputies who restrained him face-down during a “drug-induced delirium,” used unnecessary lethal force.

Emmanuel Mora, 37, died on Aug. 27 while he was being booked on a drug possession charge and a parole violation at the Justice Intake and Assessment Annex.

An official investigation, with the assistance of the Karnes County Sheriff’s Office, is still ongoing. But Mora’s mother and the mothers of his two children filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday against two members of the BCSO Special Emergency Response Team (SERT): Deputy Joseph Hernandez and Deputy Bobby Santo-Domingo.

The deputies recognized Mora was in a drug-induced delirium, the family’s lawsuit claims, and even helped administer Narcan - the brand name of the drug naloxone, which is used for opioid overdoses.

However, their body cameras and video from inside the jail show they also restrained Mora facedown, with his hands cuffed behind him, his legs folded upward, and a deputy on top of him for more than three minutes.

When deputies tried to sit Mora back on a bench, they and other staff members found he was unresponsive.

The “hog-tie/prone” position and the pressure on his back and buttocks made it hard for Mora to breathe, according to the family’s lawsuit. Their attorney, Dan Packard, argues the position is considered lethal force, especially if the person is suspected of having a drug reaction.

Mora, who had already been tased twice and whose hands and legs were restrained, was just shouting at that point and was not a danger to anyone, Packard said.

“Under the Constitution of the United States, you cannot administer lethal force unless they pose an imminent and serious threat to someone else’s life,” Packard said. “Well, here he’s in custody, in the jail, shouting ‘behave!’ And they get tired of hearing about it. And so they squeeze the life out of him, and he dies right there in front of ‘em.”

A custodial death report filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office states Mora’s death was caused by cocaine and methamphetamine intoxication. However, the report lists cardiomegaly, mild myocardial fibrosis, physical struggle, and police restraint as “other significant conditions.”

The same report lists the manner of death is listed as a “homicide”, though BCSO wrote in response to another question about who was responsible that it was “not applicable.”

Packard said he has not yet seen the autopsy report, since Mora’s death is still under investigation.

A BCSO spokeswoman declined to comment on Monday afternoon, citing pending litigation and referred KSAT to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. As of publication time, the DA’s office has not responded.

“UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR”

According to a previous statement from BCSO officials, Mora was arrested by Balcones Heights Police around 7:09 p.m. on Aug. 27 on a drug warrant. The custodial death report indicates he was facing a drug possession charge and a parole violation.

Mora was taken to the Justice Intake and Assessment Annex to begin the intake process and have his warrant verified by BCSO booking deputies.

BCSO writes that Mora was “agitated” and “refused to be searched,” so deputies attempted to put him in handcuffs.

At 7:57 p.m., booking deputies called for backup, and a medical unit was also called because of “Mora’s unusual behavior.”

Packard provided KSAT with partially redacted security and body camera video, which show Hernandez and Santo-Domingo running separately to Mora’s location, who already had leg restraints on. Several other BCSO personnel can be seen on screen, too.

When audio on their body camera recordings begins a few seconds into the first SERT deputy arriving, Mora is already repeatedly yelling “no,” and saying he wants water. The deputies holding Mora tell him to relax.

When they can’t get Mora to put his hands behind his back, the two SERT deputies take him to the floor, using a Taser on him twice in the process. Mora screams through much of the process as they eventually get him in handcuffs and back upright, sitting on a bench.

Mora does not appear to respond to anyone directly, though he continues to shout and pant out “stop,” “no,” and “behave” as he sits on the bench with Hernandez and Santo-Domingo, each keeping a hand on him.

However, aside from trying to get away from a nurse who was taking his blood pressure, Mora does not appear to struggle much physically once he’s back on the bench.

Deputies repeatedly tell him to relax, but Mora does not seem to respond to what any of the deputies or medical staff tell him and continues to shout. Another deputy asks Mora if he took anything, but he only repeats “behave” and “stop it” in response.

BCSO personnel are heard discussing what to do with Mora, and waiting for an ambulance to “send him out.”

As Mora continues to shout, one of the SERT deputies tells the other, “If he keeps it up, we’re just going to put him on the prone - just sit on him,” before telling a nearby lieutenant the same thing.

The two SERT deputies hold Mora as a nurse administers a Narcan nasal spray. He gets more agitated and continues to shout, “No.”

About 20 seconds later, the deputies stood Mora up and put him on the ground again. This time, Mora’s hands are already cuffed, and the deputies fold his restrained legs up to his buttocks.

One of the deputies stays on top of Mora’s legs while holding his cuffed wrists. The other SERT deputy instructs him to push Mora’s arms higher up his back.

A wide shot from the security video shows deputies kept Mora in that position for more than three minutes, with a deputy straddling his legs.

In that time, Mora’s shouts become less intelligible and he eventually goes silent.

“Relax, Mora. Just breathe, man. Relax,” one of the deputies tells him.

The deputies attempted to sit Mora back on the bench to take photos of his face and his chest, where the Taser prongs hit him. However, Mora is already limp and turning pale.

After they place him on his back, a nurse briefly checks Mora before calling for a “Code 1 Blue” - an immediate medical emergency.

Video shows the SERT deputy who had been straddling Mora immediately begin chest compressions before more medical staff arrive.

Though the deputy shouts to the arriving medical team that Mora is breathing, the lawsuit says Mora never revived.

According to BCSO’s custodial death report, the Code 1 Blue was issued at about 8:15 p.m.. The San Antonio Fire Department arrived at 8:40 p.m. and took over life-saving measures before Mora was pronounced dead at 9:01 p.m.

Though the video only appears to show one Narcan spray being administered, the custodial death report says he received two doses. As medical staff tried to revive him, a nurse administered a third dose, according to the report.

LAWSUIT

The family’s lawsuit argues that Hernandez and Santo-Domingo unreasonably used deadly force, caused Mora’s wrongful death, and showed gross negligence or malice.

The family members are seeking various damages, including financial loss and mental anguish. They also want punitive damages for “gross negligence/malice.”

Mora left behind two children, Packard said, a 12-year-old and an infant. There needs to be a “financial component” for the children, the attorney said, but there also needs to be better training.

“You know, here, while he’s in custody, there are supervisors all around. There’s medical professionals around, and everyone just sat around and watched them squeeze the life out of this individual,” Packard said.

Read the full lawsuit filing below:

Read the Custodial Death Report below:


About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.

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