An expert for the state has testified that a Bexar County detention officer did not follow proper training techniques when he punched an inmate during a fight inside the jail’s annex in 2014.
On July 13, 2014, Avery Lawrence was working as a detention officer at the Bexar County Detention Center Annex. Lawrence got into a verbal confrontation with one of the inmates, John Cory Garcia.
During the confrontation, Garcia shoved Lawrence. Lawrence reportedly responded by punching Garcia in the face.
According to trial testimony, Lawrence pushed Garcia to the floor and struck him in the back with his knee. Garcia suffered a broken rib, punctured lung, and facial injuries.
After the incident, Lawrence was indicted, arrested and released on bond.
Lawrence has been charged with three misdemeanors: two counts of official oppression and a charge of violation of civil rights.
At trial, Prosecutor Edward Flores argued that “(Garcia’s) injuries were so serious that if his injuries were not medically attended to, he could have died.” Flores and Chris DeMartino are the two Assistant District Attorneys prosecuting Lawrence’s case.
Flores and DeMartino filed court papers asking to introduce evidence of 16 extraneous offenses, or conduct for which Lawrence has not been charged. The offenses that prosecutors requested to introduce included allegations that Lawrence lied in incident reports, that he left out important details, and that he did not follow proper prison procedures. According to the documents filed by the prosecution, Lawrence has been involved in at least two cases where inmates were left with serious cuts, one requiring stitches and another that resulted in the inmate having repeated seizures.
Lawrence’s defense team argued that allowing the extraneous offenses to come in was prejudicial to Lawrence.
The documents show that before joining the Bexar County Detention Center Annex, Lawrence supervised juvenile wards. His July 2012 performance review, states that Lawrence “appears a bit aggressive when dealing with residents and…must be mindful of…actions and in control (of) demeanor at all times.”
Flores called expert witness Chuck Joiner to testify that Lawrence did not follow proper law enforcement training, “Officer Lawrence is not the first officer to ever be pushed. … And what officers are trained to do when they’re pushed is not to immediately come in and strike someone. It’s not lawful to start punching and beating a person because they pushed you.”
Joiner further testified about what the proper procedure would have been, “What is taught is that officers first give a verbal command, because then you have time and space. … And if that doesn’t work, the next thing is to come in with soft hand techniques.”
Lawrence’s attorney, Marilyn Bradley, argued that this was a case of assault on a public servant, not official oppression, “There was an assault that day, absolutely. … But it was the inmate on the officer. … He’s just been assaulted by an inmate. … He’s got to defend himself.”
After six hours of deliberations, a jury found Lawrence guilty of official oppression and of violating the inmate’s civil rights. The jury’s rejection of Lawrence’s self-defense claim was consistent with the testimony provided by the prosecution’s expert witness.