San Antonio

Bexar County repeatedly honored deputy who died of COVID-19. Now they’re suing his widow.

SAN ANTONIOUPDATE – This story has been up to date to incorporate a press release from Bexar County on the authorized submitting

More than two years after her husband turned the primary Bexar County Sheriff’s deputy to die of problems from COVID-19, Pauline Pezina De La Fuente continues a drawn out authorized battle for his county dying advantages.

While the county has repeatedly honored the reminiscence of Deputy Timothy De La Fuente publicly, his widow’s declare for advantages was denied.

Twice final year, an administrative choose sided with Pezina De La Fuente, forcing the county, a self-insured entity, to cover the $1,922 value to cremate De La Fuente’s stays and to pay his widow weekly dying advantages.

The county, in line with courtroom data made public earlier this year, appealed each rulings.

In the primary occasion, an appeals panel reversed the choice and despatched the case again for a second contested listening to.

After the executive choose in late September once more dominated that Pezina De La Fuente was entitled to dying advantages and reimbursement for cremation prices, the county once more appealed the case.

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In late January, the county filed go well with in opposition to Pezina De La Fuente in state district courtroom, asking a choose to reverse the executive choose’s and second appeals’ panel rulings.

Pezina De La Fuente, 70, mentioned if she’s stripped of the advantages, which quantity to lower than $4,000 a month, she can be pressured to re-enter the workforce.

“The fact that the county continues to deny this claim is shameless, it’s disgusting. It’s like my husband didn’t exist,” mentioned Pezina De La Fuente.

Dry cough turns lethal inside days

Deputy De La Fuente, 53, developed a dry cough on a Monday in late April 2020 whereas assigned to the Bexar County Jail annex.

The cough, in line with his widow, progressed to shortness of breath and by Wednesday, De La Fuente was too in poor health to work.

Thursday morning, shortly after De La Fuente had referred to as in sick for his morning shift on the jail for the second day in a row, he collapsed contained in the couple’s far North Side dwelling.

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“And when I took his glasses off and I was looking at him, I looked in his eyes and my husband was gone. He wasn’t breathing. There was nothing behind those eyes,” mentioned Pezina De La Fuente.

Pezina De La Fuente mentioned paramedics had been exterior her dwelling on the time of her husband’s dying, however had been delayed in coming inside as a result of they needed to placed on hazmat fits.

She mentioned paramedics labored on her husband for 40 minutes, at one level injecting him with fluids, to no avail.

A metropolis well being official advised Pezina De La Fuente a COVID-19 take a look at administered to her husband days earlier had come again optimistic, however that he had died earlier than well being officers might attain him with the data.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, who was among the many giant group of BCSO deputies who got here to the couple’s dwelling shortly after De La Fuente’s dying, publicly labeled it an on-duty dying and mentioned the detention officer had been assigned to a jail “hot spot,” an space overrun with the lethal virus on the time.

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After De La Fuente’s dying, his widow discovered a stretchy, material masks with his work uniform. This was a standard kind of masks worn by BCSO detention officers throughout the early months of the pandemic, as stronger personal protecting tools was in brief provide.

De La Fuente, a 27-year veteran of BCSO, was given an honor procession and inside days of his passing, the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed he died from problems of COVID-19. Other elements that contributed to De La Fuente’s dying had been hypertension and cardiomegaly, or an enlarged coronary heart, the ME’s Office mentioned on the time.

Members of space legislation enforcement businesses participate in an honor procession for fallen Deputy Timothy De La Fuente in early May 2020. (KSAT)

De La Fuente was honored once more throughout funeral companies in July 2020. The companies had been delayed, partially, to offer Pezina De La Fuente herself time to get well from COVID-19 after seemingly contracting the virus from her husband.

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The couple’s dwelling now features a everlasting shrine to De La Fuente and a room full of medals and declarations he has acquired following his dying.

Pauline Pezina De La Fuente hugs Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar throughout the 100 Club of San Antonio’s Heroes Luncheon earlier this month. (KSAT)

De La Fuente has been honored on the American Police Hall of Fame & Museum in Florida, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington D.C., the Texas Peace Officers Memorial in Austin and most not too long ago throughout the 100 Club of San Antonio’s Heroes Luncheon.

During that luncheon, officers revealed that of the 15 space fallen first responders lately, 10 died of COVID-19 problems.

County denies De La Fuente contracted COVID-19 at work

County officers, in a number of filings tied to the dying advantages case, state that no proof exists that De La Fuente contracted the lethal virus whereas working for the county and that there is no such thing as a proof he sustained an occupational illness.

Pezina De La Fuente mentioned on the time of her husband’s dying, the couple had been carefully following public well being pointers suggesting that folks socially distance from each other and had been abiding by the town’s keep at dwelling order.

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The county additionally disputes that Pezina De La Fuente was her husband’s partner on the time of his dying. The couple, nonetheless, lived collectively greater than 14 years and in line with courtroom data, carried themselves as husband and spouse and offered to others that they had been married. Multiple photographs shared by Pezina De La Fuente with the Defenders present De La Fuente carrying a marriage ring and celebrating his anniversary on numerous journeys with his spouse.

The couple pictured throughout a visit. Deputy Timothy De La Fuente died of COVID-19 problems in late April 2020. (KSAT)

The Texas Family Code, in addition to Texas courts, have lengthy held {that a} marriage will be confirmed in an official continuing if a pair has agreed to be married and has lived collectively within the state as husband and spouse.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me at all. You’re going to honor somebody and thank them for their service and thank them for working in a horrible time. Tim worked in actual Covid-positive units,” mentioned Lt. Jeremy Payne, outgoing president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County.

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“If he had been shot in the line of duty, there would be no question about this,” mentioned Payne. “You asked him to come in, you asked him to serve. He did his job and he paid for that with his life. And for you to come back and try to hurt his family by taking away financial benefits, that the state has already approved, is just horrific.”

Lt. Jeremy Payne, outgoing president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County. (KSAT)

Senate Bill 22, which was signed into legislation by Texas Governor Greg Abbott in June 2021 after garnering robust bipartisan assist makes COVID-19 a presumptive disease for sure first responders, together with detention officers.

“Regardless of whether you’re exposed by a family member or exposed at work, it just assumes the fact that we put you in a position to have to be out there. And it presumes you did get COVID while at work,” mentioned Payne.

The new legislation retroactively applies to first responder deaths relationship again to March 13, 2020, and in addition permits households of first responders to request in writing that their profit claims be reprocessed in the event that they had been beforehand denied. Insurance carriers are required to use adjustments to the legislation when reprocessing the claims.

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County officers, in authorized filings, contend that Pezina De La Fuente didn’t request in writing that her declare be reprocessed after SB 22 went into impact.

Her lawyer acknowledged that he was orally requesting that the declare to be reprocessed throughout a contested care listening to in late September, in line with Pezina De La Fuente.

Pezina acquired $1,922 for cremation prices in addition to a year of backpay of dying advantages from the county after the executive choose’s preliminary ruling in her favor in May 2021.

The advantages had been briefly halted final year, whereas the county appealed the executive choose’s ruling, however had been reinstated after the choose’s second ruling within the case and stay in place whereas the case sits in district courtroom.

Pezina De La Fuente’s attorneys have requested for a jury trial.

If she loses, Pezina De La Fuente wouldn’t should pay again the dying advantages she’s acquired to this point however would lose these advantages shifting ahead. However, she must pay again her husband’s cremation bills.

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She beforehand acquired one-time lump sum funds from each the federal Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program and state-level Employee Retirement System after every group verified her eligibility.

“Listen, I don’t want a handout. I’ve worked three jobs at times during my career. My husband gave almost 28 years to the citizens of Bexar County. He worked there more than half his life. His loyalty and dedication was unwavering,” mentioned Pezina De La Fuente.

Payne mentioned the courtroom case might have a statewide ripple impact.

“It wouldn’t just hurt the Tim De La Fuente family. It will hurt all first responders,” mentioned Payne.

Court case inflicting animosity between county, BCSO

A county spokeswoman this month refused to touch upon the case and acknowledged that it was being dealt with by its Austin-based staff’ compensation legislation agency. An individual who answered the telephone on the agency mentioned he couldn’t touch upon pending litigation.

Tuesday afternoon, a number of hours after this story was printed and a full two weeks after the Defenders reached out relating to the go well with, Bexar County spokeswoman Monica Ramos launched the next assertion:

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“Our condolences go out to the De La Fuente family on the loss of Deputy De La Fuente. While we disagree with the general characterization of this matter, we are working to ensure that Bexar County-funded benefits are paid out appropriately and in accordance with relevant law. Bexar County has and continues to pay survivor benefits to the family during the pendency of this administrative matter and will follow the order of the court considering the issues in this case, once issued. We have no further comment at this time.”

Sheriff Salazar, who has escorted Pezina De La Fuente at a number of ceremonies honoring her husband, declined to remark because of the pending litigation.

But inner emails obtained by the Defenders by means of a public data request make clear the acrimony the authorized case is inflicting between the county and BCSO.

BCSO’s human resources supervisor reached out to the county’s staff’ compensation danger claims specialist through electronic mail May 5 to ask if the county was suing the widow of De La Fuente.

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The claims specialist, Pearl Camarillo Jauregui, responded that the question was incorrect.

“The County is defending its position(s) and does not comment on active litigation nor should anyone else at the County,” Camarillo Jauregui wrote on May 6.

She then wrote that another questions must be referred to the county’s lawyer dealing with the case or to at least one of the 2 attorneys representing De La Fuente’s widow.

Camarillo Jauregui’s electronic mail included a misspelling of Pezina De La Fuente’s title and the false declare that the case was being dealt with confidentially.

Bexar County’s determination to file go well with in state district courtroom made dozens of pages of data from the matter, together with the executive choose’s previous rulings on the case, public document.

Camarillo Jauregui then requested who was requesting details about the case.

Sheriff Salazar on May 9 despatched the next reply through electronic mail to Camarillo Jauregui:

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Ms. Jauregui, To be clear, I’m the one requesting the information–and I really feel I’m entitled to. Quite frankly, I’m doing so as a result of I used to be requested by a member of the media AND by the widow of Deputy Timothy De La Fuente if I used to be behind any actions being filed in opposition to her. I used to be requested this as I used to be within the course of of honoring Deputy Timothy De La Fuente at two back-to-back ceremonies to honor fallen first responders. Being that my stance is that Timothy’s dying is certainly a line of responsibility dying, I used to be caught fully off-guard by the questions. I used to be honored to escort his widow, Pauline, to each occasions at her invitation and I discover it fully reprehensible that anybody can be submitting any kind of motion in opposition to a grieving legislation enforcement widow. I didn’t remark, nor will I touch upon ongoing litigation. I used to be merely being requested a question and wished some background as to why I used to be being requested. If that is the case, I can let you know I strongly disagree with denial of advantages, and I discover it insulting to Timothy’s reminiscence if his spouse is certainly being sued for pursuing one thing numerous different legislation enforcement households are rightfully being afforded-all whereas she is clearly nonetheless coping with the loss of her partner. I guarantee you, as a firsthand witness, her feelings are to be anticipated and they’re very actual. I’m not clear what “The County’s position” you quote is, however mine and that of my office are that we must always stand by one of our fallen heroes and honor him. Although I select to not touch upon it publicly at this level, I DO know what I’ll testify to if and when subpoenaed to take action. Respectfully, Sheriff Javier Salazar.

Email obtained by KSAT 12 Defenders

Pezina De La Fuente mentioned she plans to attend this week’s BCSO fallen deputy memorial on the Bexar County Courthouse.

Her husband had deliberate to retire from BCSO after reaching 30 years of service. De La Fuente survived riots within the jail and was capable of return to responsibility after recovering from a big head damage stemming from a 2017 assault by an inmate.

Copyright 2022 by KSAT – All rights reserved.

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