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Editorial: We need deeper look into teenager’s death

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Seventeen-year-old Desiree Gonzales died in the early morning of May 8 after shooting heroin.

But the young Santa Fe woman’s death was not that simple.

She was taken from a private home to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where she was stabilized and released. Law enforcement personnel, who had responded to the drug overdose emergency call and noted that she had an outstanding warrant, took her to the youth detention facility, where workers noted that she seemed “out of it.”

Desiree Gonzales.

Desiree Gonzales.

Less than four and a half hours later, she was found to be unresponsive and returned to the hospital, where she died.

This scenario raises a number of questions.

Was this young woman released too early from the hospital?

When she was booked into the detention center and noted to be less than completely coherent, should she have been sent right back to the hospital?

Was she checked frequently enough and closely enough for detention personnel to keep tabs on her condition?

Somewhere along the line, the safeguards in place intended to save our young people from the results of their sometimes stupid choices failed.

But it appears that many of these questions may never be answered.

Hospital information about individual patients always is banned from disclosure, so we won’t have much luck there trying to find out exactly what happened.

But it would seem that information about the performance of our taxpayer-funded institutions should be subject to public examination.

So far, that hasn’t been the case. Santa Fe County officials had said they would conduct an internal investigation into what took place at the detention center, but so far have denied the Journal’s requests for information.

The denial is based on an exception in the Inspection of Public Records Act, according to the denial letter sent by the county, saying that “all records pertaining to the child” in juvenile detention facilities are confidential and “shall not be disclosed directly or indirectly to the public.”

Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, contends that the confidentiality does not apply after a person dies and, even if it did, details on the county’s probe into its own performance can be revealed without even naming the youth in its custody.

“I think the internal investigation would be outside the section of the code they cite,” she told the Journal.

We agree.

And we agree not just because we’re nosy, but because we value the lives of our young people and other members of our community. Exposure of the details behind this incident is important to all of us, especially to see what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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