In July 2012, a pair of Ohio deputies picked up a Mexican immigrant for driving drunk, then dumped him at a Taco Bell 3 miles away.
Delaware County officers had found Uriel Juárez-Popoca in a pickup truck parked in the median of Interstate 71. They called him “amiga!” and told him, “you stink,” before spraying him with deodorant.
Juárez-Popoca, a 22-year-old father of two, was intoxicated and had trouble communicating with police. One deputy announced the sheriff’s office would transport Juárez-Popoca to the Taco Bell because, “I figure they’ll have someone that interprets.”
“There you go,” laughed a state trooper called to the scene.
But instead of arresting Juárez-Popoca or ensuring a friend or relative would pick him up, the deputies in Delaware, Ohio—about 30 miles north of Columbus—abandoned him drunk and discombobulated at the fast-food restaurant.
After wandering in and out of the Taco Bell, Juárez-Popoca walked onto the nearby highway and was hit by a car and killed.
Now, five years later, Delaware County has settled with Juárez-Popoca’s family for $300,000, the Columbus Dispatch reports.
“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,” Jennifer Branch, an attorney for Juárez-Popoca’s family, told the Dispatch.
“His family never expected that law enforcement officers would endanger his life by making a joke out of his Mexican heritage,” she added.
Joel Spitzer, another attorney for Juárez-Popoca’s kin, visited the family several times in their tiny village outside Mexico City.
Juárez-Popoca was working three jobs in Ohio, sending anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000 a month to his family back home so they could buy an oven and a truck for their bread business, and so his little sister could attend school, Spitzer said.
Spitzer said Juárez-Popoca, who was undocumented, contradicted the prevailing “stigma of Mexicans coming here to rob people and steal our jobs.”
“He came here to support his family and find the American dream,” Spitzer told The Daily Beast, “and the people he thought he could trust the most ended up doing him wrong.
“All he wanted was to come here to help his parents and sisters and, more importantly, his two daughters have a better life.”
A federal lawsuit filed by Juárez-Popoca’s estate reveals a disturbing set of allegations against former Delaware County Deputies Derek Beggs and Chris Hughes, who were accused of mocking Juárez-Popoca for being Hispanic.
Juárez-Popoca had been driving drunk on July 28, 2012, when he safely steered his Ford F-150 into the grass median of Interstate 71, the lawsuit alleges. Around 9:13 p.m., Deputies Beggs and Hughes arrived on scene and found Juárez-Popoca inside the stopped truck.
But the deputies did not follow the usual protocol of apprehending a drunk driver and holding him in custody until he could be released to a third party.
“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 lawsuit, filed in 2014, states.
Juárez-Popoca had worked in the Columbus area for years and sent money back to Mexico to support his parents, wife, two children, and other relatives. Juárez-Popoca’s income, according to his attorneys, was crucial to his family’s survival. According to the lawsuit, Juárez-Popoca drank socially and not usually to excess.
His blood-alcohol level was about 0.23 percent that night, or almost three times the level when Ohio drivers are considered impaired, the Dispatch reported.
When Deputies Beggs and Hughes found Juárez-Popoca, they couldn’t communicate with him. They removed him from his truck, which was stuck between a guardrail on one side and guard wires on the other, as well as an overpass pillar in front.
Minutes later, at 9:18 p.m., state highway patrol trooper Sean Carpenter responded to the scene. Trooper Carpenter and Deputy Beggs discussed who would take on this “mess,” or process the case. Both were allegedly reluctant to do so since their shifts would soon end.
In court papers, lawyers for Beggs and Carpenter said they “admit” to engaging “in light banter upon Trooper Carpenter’s arrival… but deny anyone was reluctant to handle the situation or attempted to push the matter onto the other law enforcement agency.” They also denied that “their work shifts” affected the handling of the situation.
Beggs described Juárez-Popoca for Carpenter, according to footage from a dashcam video. “He’s sitting in there... He looks at me like, ‘I’m so drunk I can’t even figure out who you are,’” Beggs said.
When Carpenter asked whether Juárez-Popoca was driving with a suspended license, Beggs replied, “Uh, yeah, but really drunk,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit states officers never arrested Juárez-Popoca, requested a blood or urine test, or completed documentation relating to his operating a vehicle while intoxicated. They didn’t detain him or release him to a relative—which the lawsuit claims was a result of “discrimination against Mr. Popoca based on his Hispanic or Mexican national origin.”
Deputy Beggs decided they would transport Juárez-Popoca to a Taco Bell, and Carpenter locked Juárez-Popoca’s keys in his truck, which had an empty case of beer.
Beggs then announced over the radio that Hughes was “transporting his ‘new amigo’ to Taco Bell to wait for his ride,” the lawsuit says.
At about 9:31 p.m., Beggs called Deputy Matt Williams and said that Juárez-Popoca “had no idea what is going on” and that they’d bring him to the fast-food chain. The restaurant, in Sunbury, was about 3 miles from Juárez-Popoca’s stalled vehicle.
While speaking to Williams, Beggs called Juárez-Popoca a “stupid idiot” who “has no idea what is going on,” court papers allege of a phone call between the two officers. The lawsuit accuses both officers of laughing at Juárez-Popoca’s expense. After Beggs told Williams that he was carting Juárez-Popoca to Taco Bell, Williams replied, “I love you so much.”
Williams then asked why Beggs pulled Juárez-Popoca over, and Beggs replied, “I’ll tell you when we’re not on a recorded line,” the lawsuit states.
After the officers left Juárez-Popoca, he wandered in and out of the store and even walked in the drive-through area. The manager of this Taco Bell, which was off U.S. Highway 36, called 911 about 15 minutes after Juárez-Popoca arrived. She told the dispatcher that a Hispanic male had asked her to call the police, and that he was drunk and could not communicate with her. She locked him out of the restaurant.
“Mr. Popoca asked people at the Taco Bell to call the police because they dropped him off there so they could come back and get him. He also asked the cashier to drive him back to his truck on the interstate. He clearly had no idea what was going on, was confused, disoriented and still intoxicated,” the complaint says.
Multiple officers including Beggs and Carpenter, were aware of the radio call and danger Juárez-Popoca faced but failed to take action to protect him, the lawsuit alleges.
After the Taco Bell manager’s calls, Sergeant Jonathan Burke called Deputy Beggs and asked why Juárez-Popoca was not arrested. Burke suggested that next time, Beggs should “take the guy out of the freaking county or something so we’re not getting calls on it, you know, 20 minutes later,” according to the lawsuit.
Deputy Hughes returned to the Taco Bell at about 10:05 p.m. but didn’t search for Juárez-Popoca, who’d by then entered the state highway, the complaint says.
Around 10:24 p.m., several 911 callers reported a man weaving in and out of traffic on U.S. Highway 36 near the Alum Creek Bridge. Juárez-Popoca, by this point, was 1.25 miles from the Taco Bell where police had left him.
Ten minutes later, someone called 911 to report that Juárez-Popoca had been hit. The father of two died of blunt impacts to the head, neck, and trunk due to a motor vehicle collision. His legs were severely broken.
Branch told the Dispatch that Juárez-Popoca was killed “almost instantly” and “the force of being hit was so severe, he was knocked out of his shoes.”
Trooper Carpenter, and Deputies Hughes and Beggs, were fired over the incident, but Carpenter would eventually get his job back.
In December 2012, a jury convicted Trooper Carpenter and Deputy Beggs of misdemeanor dereliction of duty in relation to Juárez-Popoca’s treatment. Hughes was convicted of failing to aid a law-enforcement officer.
While an appellate court upheld Beggs’ conviction, the same court overturned Carpenter’s conviction, and he got his job back as a state trooper. The Dispatch reported that an arbitrator ruled Carpenter would return to work and also be paid for at least two months that he was out of work over the Juárez-Popoca incident.
The deputies grieved their firings through the police union and reached agreements with the county. As part of Hughes’ agreement, the county paid him $10,000 to resign and agreed to remove the incident from his personnel file and provide him a “positive” reference, the lawsuit says.
The county also allowed Beggs to resign, removed the incident from his personnel file, and agreed to provide a “positive” reference, court papers say. (The Dispatch reported the sheriff’s office would only provide a “neutral” employment reference.)
Juárez-Popoca would likely be alive if he weren’t Hispanic, Spitzer told The Daily Beast.
“I think they [the deputies] did not want to do all the ICE paperwork, and just took him to Taco Bell as a joke, and then ignored phone calls and dispatch and said, ‘We’ve already dealt with him. We’re not going back,’” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said he flew to Mexico City, then rode a truck for four hours to get to Juárez-Popoca’s town, San Bartolomé Atlatlahuca, where people had collected funds to fly Juárez-Popoca’s body home. It took them a week to raise money for a FedEx Air shipment.
Then Juárez-Popoca’s body was kept in his family’s home for two weeks, with a sheet covering him, before they saved enough cash for a burial celebration, Spitzer said.
“It was just sad, because he was their up-and-coming patriarch of the family,” Spitzer said, adding, “There are two daughters out there without their dad. I can’t imagine them growing up thinking what happened to [him].”