A Galveston County Sheriff’s Office deputy faces felony charges after a grand jury Thursday handed up a manslaughter indictment to a district court judge over the November death of a man at the Galveston County Jail.
Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jonathan Wuneburger is accused of pushing Ariel Ledesma to the floor of his cell Nov. 29 during an escape attempt.
The push caused Ledesma to hit his head and left him severely injured, officials said at the time.
Ledesma died in a hospital Dec. 14.
A grand jury Thursday issued a true bill for a manslaughter indictment to 212th District Court Judge Patricia Grady. The Galveston County District Attorney’s Office and county Sheriff Henry Trochesset confirmed the grand jury’s decision.
Grady is expected to sign the true bill Friday, after which Wuneburger would be formally indicted. Wuneburger would be arrested and formally charged after the indictment is handed down, law enforcement officials said.
Manslaughter is a second-degree felony that carries a possible punishment of up to 20 years in prison.
Wuneburger, whose employment had been suspended since November, had been advised of the charges against him, Trochesset said.
With the news of the true bill, Trochesset fired Wuneburger on Thursday, he said.
A custodial death report submitted by the sheriff’s office to the Texas Attorney General’s Office in December provided a description of the incident that led to Ledesma’s injury and death. The report asserts Ledesma was attempting to escape when he was pushed.
The report summarizes the incident in three sentences.
“Staff was attempting to secure the inmate inside the cell by closing the door,” according to the report. “The inmate came towards the doorway, attempting to exit the cell. The inmate was pushed out of the doorway, resulting in him falling backwards, landing on his back/head.”
The Texas Rangers conducted a criminal investigation into Ledesma’s death.
Ledesma was jailed Nov. 28 on one count of criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. His bond was set at $1,000. He was accused of trespassing at a property in 1300 block of 39th Street in Galveston, according to court records.
Ledesma’s home address is about five blocks from where he was arrested, according to court records.
Wuneburger, 42, was an eight-year veteran of the sheriff’s office
It’s rare in Texas for law officers to be charged with crimes over in-custody deaths. Since 2010, the sheriff’s office has reported 16 in-custody deaths to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The deaths include everything from people shot by deputies during armed confrontations to inmates who died during medical crises while in custody.
Wuneburger is the first local law enforcement officer to receive any kind of homicide-related charge since 2008, when a Texas City police officer was charged with manslaughter in an alleged drunken-driving crash.