CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A prosecutor told jurors Tuesday that videos showing former employees at a state facility trying to force developmentally disabled residents to fight each other would be "one of the saddest things you've ever seen."
Six former employees of the Corpus Christi State School were charged for their roles in the orchestrated late-night bouts between residents, which police called a "fight club."
At the start of the first trial Tuesday, Nueces County Assistant District Attorney Doug Mann said other former employees would testify that the fights occurred almost nightly.
"This was their form of entertainment," Mann said.
Jesse Salazar, 25, is the first of the former employees to go on trial. He is accused of helping to instigate the fights and failing to stop them.
Salazar's attorney, Cecil Starcher, said in his opening statement that Salazar was actually stopping the fights, which he described as a regular occurrence in a facility housing violent people.
If convicted of intentionally promoting the fights or striking a resident, Salazar could face two to 10 years in prison. If jurors decide Salazar's crime was one of omission for not stopping the fights, he could be sentenced to between six months and two years in jail.
In March, almost 20 videos dating to 2007 were discovered on a cell phone that was found at a clothing store and later turned in to police. The videos showed staff at the school forcing residents into fights, kicking them to egg them on.
The videos even showed the employees using pranks to try to get the residents to fight each other, Mann told jurors.
"It's one of the saddest things you've ever seen," he said.
Two of the former employees charged in the case reached deals with prosecutors and were scheduled to testify in Salazar's trial. Another pleaded guilty in July and is awaiting sentencing.