The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

April 13, 2013

Inmates gets life sentence for assault of TDCJ officer

Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — After 30 minutes of deliberations, an Anderson County jury handed down a life sentence to a Coffield Unit inmate Thursday for his involvement in the October 2009 assault of a corrections officer.

Allyson Mitchell, an attorney with the special prosecution unit — whose role is to prosecute cases that occur in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System — reported that Benny Palomo, 31, was the second of three inmates to be convicted in the case.

The trial took place Tuesday through Thursday in the court of 87th State District Judge Deborah Oakes Evans, with Palestine attorney Mark Cargill representing the defendant.

Mitchell was assisted by Anderson County Assistant District Attorney Kimberly Clark.

On Oct. 19, 2009, inmate Raymond Sotelo, 26, had refused the order of corrections officer Eric Christiansen and the officer told him to returned to his cell. The inmate said “make me,” prompting Christiansen to cuff Sotelo.

As he was doing so, Sotelo turned around and punched Christiansen in the face. Palomo immediately jumped in and the two took the officer to the ground. A third defendant also joined in — kicking the officer in the face and head repeatedly.

During the incident, Christiansen received a black eye, bloody nose, abrasions to the side of the head and forehead and a slight concussion.

Other corrections officers arrived and attempted to subdue the inmates with pepper spray. The three fled and an extraction team came and took the inmates — two of whom had been positively identified with pepper spray. None of the inmates were injured.

Sotelo, defended by state council for offenders attorney Barbara Law, was tried March 26 and 27 in the court of Judge Mark Calhoon for the offense of assault on a public servant (a third degree felony, with a standard sentence of 2-10 years).

“Sotelo confessed on the stand, and the jury took only 4 to 5 minutes to find him guilty,” Mitchell said. “Because of previous offenses, he was sentenced to the maximum 20 years.

“In cases like these, with offenders already doing time, sentences are stacked.”

The trial for the third inmate involved in the case has been scheduled for June.

“As a prosecutor for the special prosecution unit, it is my privilege to be able to try inmates and seek justice for corrections officers who put their lives on the line every day,” Mitchell said. “I hope this lets inmates know that Anderson County jurors are not going to tolerate the abuse of COs who are doing their job.

“Hopefully inmates will think twice before assaulting a corrections officer.”

Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at