An officer violently attacked by inmates feels like the Arizona Department of Corrections has “turned their back” on him after state investigators did not recommend criminal charges against one of the prisoners who was involved.
Officer Eduardo Garza also told ABC15 that his department and prosecutors did not notify him that the inmate would not be charged.
“I feel like (the Department of Corrections) completely turned their back on me,” Garza said. “Believing an inmate’s word over what happened – what clearly happened in the video to one of their officers.”
The assault was captured on a prison surveillance camera and leaked to ABC15 by a whistleblower earlier this year in order to expose how many cell doors inside Lewis prison don’t properly lock.
On October 29, 2018, multiple inmates attacked Garza and another officer in the Buckley Unit, court records show. Garza suffered significant facial injuries, including a broken nose and deviated septum, that has required two surgeries so far.
Three inmates were charged with aggravated assault for the attack: Daniel Brumley, Elias Holguin, and Jesus Hernandez.
However, a fourth inmate, Johnny Cota, was not criminally charged.
Garza said no one – not his own department nor the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office -- informed him of the decision.
He only learned that Cota hadn’t been charged after recently seeing him work in the kitchen at the prison, a job that requires a lower custody-risk level.
Garza was also upset Cota wasn’t transferred so that he wouldn’t have contact with him again.
“I got a hold of the prosecutor,” Garza said. “She told me that she was told by C.I.U. and her supervisor that (Cota) was helping, and so not to press charges on him.”
A spokesperson for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said it was the corrections department's decision not to recommend charges for Cota. C.I.U. stands for the department’s criminal investigations unit.
Garza disagrees that Cota was trying to help.
He said video of the assault clearly shows that Cota kept him from defending himself and stopping the attacker.
“He was holding me back,” Garza said. “In any obvious situation, when you’re trying to stop a fight, you either are going to get in the middle of it, you’re going to hold the assaulter back, not the person trying to defend themselves.”
Cota grabs Garza multiple times, according to the video. At one point, when Garza is able to gain leverage on his attacker and get on top of him, Cota grabs his arms and pulls back. The move allows the attacker to wrap his leg around Garza and repeatedly punch him in the head.
The assault lasts roughly 50 seconds.
At the end, multiple officers rush into the pod of cells and break up the fight. Cota can then be seen pulling Garza toward the wall -- a move that appears like he’s trying to assist the officer.
“When you see the responders show up, you’re going to pretend like you’re one of the good guys,” Garza said. “You’re not going to want to be charged.”
Cota has multiple past convictions: one for armed robbery, and another for gang and firearm charges.
He is due for release in July 2021, records show.
In a statement to ABC15 on Wednesday, the ADC said, "The Arizona Department of Corrections does not tolerate acts of aggression or violence against its employees or other inmates...No charging documents were submitted to the County Attorney for inmate Johnny Cota (ADC#171279) because video surveillance evidence and statements from multiple employee eyewitnesses corroborated that Cota did not assault Officer Garza."
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.