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Family sues over drunk man left at Taco Bell

TNS Regional News • Jan 12, 2014 at 12:07 PM

The family of a man who was killed in 2012 after two Delaware County deputy sheriffs and a State Highway Patrol trooper did not arrest him for drunken driving is suing the county, the law-enforcement officers and others for the man’s death.

Uriel Juarez Popoca, 22, was fatally struck by a truck while walking on Rts. 36/37 in the county on July 28, 2012.

Popoca ended up walking on the highway after the two deputies dropped him off at a Taco Bell near the I-71 interchange. The deputies and the trooper had found an intoxicated Popoca in his truck in the median of I-71 earlier that night. They didn’t charge him, but instead the deputies dropped him off at the fast-food restaurant.

They can be heard making fun of Popoca’s inability to speak English and the Mexican man’s ethnicity in video footage recorded by dashboard cameras in their cruisers.

The lawsuit says that the law-enforcement officers involved that night, from the three who found Popoca drunk to those who heard radio traffic involving the officers’ plan to take him to Taco Bell, should have done more to protect Popoca.

The suit names the two deputies, Derek Beggs and Christopher Hughes, who were fired from the sheriff’s office after Popoca’s death, and the trooper, Sean Carpenter, plus two other deputies and the county.

Carpenter was fired from the patrol, but he got his job back after an arbitrator ruled that he did not deserve to lose it over the incident.

Beggs was convicted of dereliction of duty, and Hughes pleaded guilty to failing to aid a law-enforcement officer in connection with Popoca’s death. Carpenter also was convicted of being derelict in his duty for failing to arrest Popoca, but an appellate court threw out his conviction, ruling that Carpenter was not responsible for Popoca because the two deputies were in charge of the scene.

The lawsuit says that Popoca worked odd jobs around Columbus to send money back to his wife, two children, parents and other relatives in Mexico. The suit does not say how much Popoca’s family is seeking in damages.

Al Gerhardstein, a Cincinnati lawyer who is representing Popoca’s family, said the officers took Popoca to Taco Bell to poke fun at him because he was Mexican.

“Officers should protect everyone when they have diminished capacity, but it’s particularly perverse to take someone who’s at a low point, he’s made a mistake, he’s disoriented, and rather than help him, you affirmatively make fun of him, you abuse him, you drop him off at a prank location,” Gerhardstein said.

Sheriff Russ Martin said the county was notified about the lawsuit on Wednesday afternoon. He said he could not comment about the suit because it is pending.

The case was filed in federal court. No hearing date has been set.


By Laura Arenschield - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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