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After Seven Long Years, the Question Remains: Who Killed Rafael Solis in a Texas Jail?

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  Webb County Jail (Jimmy Emerson / CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2009, Rafael Solis, a 38-year-old father of two, was taken into custody in Webb County, Texas, for falling behind on child support payments. Within days, he died in jail in Laredo after suffering extensive physical injuries, and the Webb County coroner ruled the death a homicide. After seven years with no prosecutions, Solis’ mother is crying out for justice.

Maria Escamilla says she learned of her son’s death after the Webb County jail phoned and asked her to go to a gas station. It was there that two deputies gave her the news. They would say only that “[h]e was just lying on the [jail] floor,” according to Escamilla.

Escamilla’s cause has been taken up by the Public Justice Foundation, which is leading a campaign for accountability in the death and has taken action in civil court. Its demands include a call for an investigation of Texas jails in general.

Escamilla has turned to the news media in seeking answers. On Friday an article she wrote was published in the British newspaper The Guardian. In it she tells her side of the story:

The truth, we now know from official reports, was that Rafael was put in handcuffs and shackles, held face down against the floor of his cell, stomped on and beaten until he died.

He had two fractured ribs, diaphragm contusions, hemorrhages on his back and chest and bruises and abrasions all over his body. A subsequent report from the Texas Rangers even noted there were cross-patterns on his body that matched the laces from a jailor’s boot and a bruise on his face that matched the pattern of the drain on the floor of his cell.

The jailers claim that Rafael was experiencing alcohol withdrawal, and jailors were just trying [to] help by putting his pants on him so he could be transported to the hospital. But broken ribs aren’t a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. And bruises all over your body, or boot prints on your chest, don’t usually result from trying to get someone get dressed.

According to the coroner, the jailors’ “help” asphyxiated Rafael, and he died.

Yet when a court recently ruled that seven jailors implicated in Rafael’s death should stand trial in a case saying their excessive force killed my son, all seven appealed. Each now claims they have immunity from prosecution because, well, they were just doing their jobs, in their official capacity, at the Webb County jail. The appeal is pending as my family and I continue to wait for justice. [Truthdig editor’s note: The jailors are the targets of a lawsuit alleging excessive force, but none has ever been officially charged with a crime.]

We may never know for sure what “doing their jobs” included, because the jailhouse cameras were—for a reason we still have not been told—not recording on the day Rafael died.

Public Justice has posted an online petition headed “Demand Justice For Rafael. Call For A Full Investigation Into Deaths In Texas Jails.” It cites the notorious case of Sandra Bland, found hanged in a Waller County jail, in addition to the Rafael Solis death.

—Posted by Donald Kaufman.

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