McALLEN, Texas-(AP) A South Texas grand jury has indicted Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on charges related to the alleged abuse of prisoners in Willacy County’s federal detention centers.
The indictment criticizes Cheney’s investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and “at least misdemeanor assaults” on detainees by working through the prison companies.
Gonzales is accused of using his position while in office to stop an investigation into abuses at the federal detention centers.
Another indictment charges state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. with profiting from his public office by accepting honoraria from prison management companies.
Didn’t think much would come of this but for different reasons, but it appears the DA who obtained these indictments is a real loony toon.
A county prosecutor who obtained indictments against Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others pounded his fist and shouted at the judge Friday about special treatment for high-profile defendants as a routine motions hearing descended into chaos.
Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who is accusing the public officials of culpability in the alleged abuse of prisoners at a federal detention center, asked presiding Judge Manuel Banales to recuse himself. Guerra has complained about Banales’ handling of the case, a probe he has dubbed “Operation Goliath.”
Attorneys for the vice president and other defendants leapt to their feet in objection, as Guerra pounded the table and accused Banales of giving the defendants special treatment in allowing motions to quash the indictments to be heard before the defendants were arraigned.
“Now all of a sudden there is urgency!” Guerra shouted at Banales. “Eighteen months you kept me indicted through the election!”
Charges accusing Guerra of extorting money from a bail bond company and of using his office for personal business were dismissed in October, but he had already lost the March Democratic primary.
The defendants in the prisoner abuse case, who were not required to be in court, were all expected to waive arraignment, but the hearing never progressed that far.
“Did you think, judge, my grand jury didn’t take this seriously?” Guerra said. “They indicted the vice president.”
Banales called a recess to contact the chief justice of the state Supreme Court for suggestions on how to proceed, and ordered Guerra to remain in the courthouse.
“I will not obey that order,” Guerra said, but agreed to stay if the judge asked him respectfully.
Banales adjourned until Wednesday.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorneys suggested Guerra was unstable.
“What came out today was the mental state of the prosecutor was exposed to the court,” said Tony Canales, co-counsel representing private prison company The GEO Group. But that talk only incited Guerra, who said he’s heard himself called “loco” before.
“I know exactly what I’m doing,” the district attorney said.
Unlike the initial hearing last Wednesday when Guerra was absent and media and attorneys for the indicted appeared in equal numbers, curious residents packed the courtroom.
Half of the indictments returned Monday are linked to privately run federal detention centers in the sparsely populated South Texas county. The other half target judges, special prosecutors and the district clerk who played a role in an earlier investigation of Guerra.
Banales appointed a temporary prosecutor to handle the officials indicted along with Cheney, Gonzales and state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., because Guerra has sparred with them for years and would be a witness in their cases.
Lucio, D-Brownsville, said Friday that he was disappointed the judge was not able to hear their motions to quash what he called “baseless charges.”
The grand jury also charged Lucio with illegally profiting from his position by accepting consulting fees from private prison comapnies.
The GEO Group Corp. was indicted on a murder charge in the death of an inmate.
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