Man claims Texas police beat him after seizure, car accident
The incident took place in December, when Ortega was on a 12-mile drive back home from his children’s mother’s house when he stopped to get gas. He was extremely tired and admits to falling asleep at the wheel, according to KFOX.
“I stopped at the Circle K just up the street. I don't remember what I put. To this day, I don't remember what I put. I had to check my bank account,” Ortega told KFOX.
Ortega doesn't remember anything after that except waking up at University Medical Center. But he does take issue with police accounts of the incident, so he turned to local media for an interview and investigation.
“I had some bruises on my face and I could feel it when making [facial] gestures,” Ortega said, but he and his family are sure his worst injuries aren’t a result of a car accident.
There were also bruises on Ortega’s arms, legs, feet, and back, broken bones in one hand and two fingers, along with two Taser lacerations on his stomach, according to medical records. Additionally, records say Ortega had a grand mal seizure while in his car. That explains certain details in the police report, Ortega and his mother say.
The police accident report describes officers responding at 12:45 a.m. to Ortega doing "donuts," or spinning his car until it rammed a rock wall. During or immediately after that moment is when Ortega is believed to have suffered a seizure, which police allegedly unknowingly witnessed.
“When he comes out of [a seizure], that's when he's like walking around like in a state of confusion,” Olaya Calanche, Ortega’s mother, told KFOX. “I've talked to him and I'll be like ‘Junior, Junior, it's Mom.’ He’ll look at me but like he looks past me."
Police assumed Ortega was drunk, charging him with DUI despite a hospital toxicology report showing no drugs or alcohol in his system. About a week later, the district attorney dropped that charge. However, Ortega still faces charges of resisting arrest, evading arrest, and interfering with public duties. He is now trying to find a lawyer.
With police withholding some information pending their internal investigation, Calanche relied on a nurse from the hospital for more details. The nurse spoke with the paramedics who treated her son in an ambulance accompanied by a police officer.
The nurse, according to Calanche, was told by paramedics that “my son had become very combative and he had become so strong like the Incredible Hulk that they had to [Taser] him twice and used a baton and some of the bruises were because of the baton.”
The first of three arresting affidavits described Ortega “looking around aimlessly” and that he “appeared disoriented,” saying he needed to leave. Ortega began walking away from the responding officer, and that’s when the first arrest attempt was made.
The affidavit continues, saying Ortega grabbed the officer by "his arms and forced him to the ground," before Ortega wrestled out of that and the officer pinned him against the rock wall. Still trying to apply the handcuffs, the officer called for backup, then used his Taser three times, at which point the wires tangled and the officer switched to his baton.
While the second affidavit concurs with the first, saying three officers were needed to take control of Ortega, the third affidavit actually doubled that figure, claiming six officers were required.
The affidavits allege Ortega was “tensing his arms, thrashing his legs and twisting his body,” but that wasn’t a sign of resistance, according to Ortega’s physician, KFOX reported.
“If a person does not know what a seizure is, they will not know this is a seizure,” said Dr. Darine Kassar, a neurologist at Texas Tech University Health Science Center.
After the seizure, the person goes into what is called a "postictal phase," which can last minutes or hours.
“They will not know what happened, they will be confused, they will be disoriented,” Kassar said. “They can be combative, they can be not following commands, because they are confused. They are not back to their normal baseline.”
In this situation, “don't try to restrain them or be aggressive with them,” Kassar said, “because they are still not back to their normal selves.”
Kassar also clarified that Ortega was driving because he had been seizure-free for over six months and was regularly taking his medication. Texas law requires a person have no seizures for three months before being able to drive legally.
Not only was Ortega constrained and beaten, he was left face down when fire officials and paramedics arrived, a position that “can obstruct breathing and cause death,” according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Paramedics treated Ortega as a level one trauma, the most severe, KFOX reported, and Ortega was still having seizures and maintaining a postictal phase on the way to the hospital.
“I know I didn't do anything wrong, you know,” Ortega said. “I'm not that type of person. I'll get pulled over and talk very courteously to any cop. I have cop friends.”
Ortega turned himself in after being released from the hospital, but it was his injuries that kept him off of work for a month. That, Ortega fears, could be only the beginning of the consequences he will face if he is unable to get a good enough lawyer to defend himself in court.
“What I am worried about is it might not work. I might still get this, I might not have enough evidence and the judge will return it and say, ‘Hey, you're going to have this on your record.’ That's what worries me,” Ortega told KFOX.
The El Paso Police Department says it instructs its recruits on medical emergencies and how to recognize seizures during the academy training.