Suit: Cops Left Hispanic Drunk Guy at Taco Bell

Uriel Juarez-Popoca was subsequently killed by a car

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 20, 2014 11:30 AM CST

(Newser) – When Ohio police responded to reports of a drunk driver who had pulled over on the side of the road, they inexplicably took the 22-year-old Hispanic man to a Taco Bell five miles away and left him there. Soon after, he was walking on the highway when he was hit by a car and killed. Now, local authorities are facing a federal civil rights lawsuit over what Uriel Juarez-Popoca's family calls a "perverse joke" by police about Juarez-Popoca's Mexican roots. The family, represented by a leading civil-rights lawyer, is suing the Delaware County Sheriff's office, as well as individual officers, including a state highway patrolman.

"This stands out as a truly outrageous failure by local law enforcement to do their basic duty of holding people safely," lawyer Al Gerhardstein tells the AP, calling it "a tragic joke." The Columbus Dispatch last month reported that officers were recorded laughing at the man's poor English and suggesting someone at Taco Bell would be able to speak with him. But a lawyer for the patrolman says Juarez-Popoca, whose legal status in the US is unclear, got a "major break" when officers didn't jail him. Police say they thought he would call for a ride after they dropped him off. Two deputies involved were fired for a "lack of maturity and professionalism"; both also paid fines amid criminal charges. The patrolman was fired and charged but got his job back following an appeal.

A Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Va.
A Taco Bell restaurant in Richmond, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
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