Deaths have spiked in the past year among inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The Journal combed through autopsy and toxicology reports from the Office of the Medical Investigator, incident reports from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and reached out to families to start to learn about what happened to each of the nine people who died.
April 20, 2020:
Antonio Romero, 55, died of a heart attack. The manner of death was determined to be natural. Romero had pleaded guilty to an aggravated DWI charge and was serving his sentence. He was booked into jail on Feb. 27.
According to the autopsy report, in mid-April Romero complained of chest pain and was taken to the infirmary, given an antacid, and observed for several hours. According to incident reports, the next day he took a shower, returned to his cell and less than 30 minutes later a guard noticed he didn’t look right. The guard entered the cell and found Romero was not breathing and did not have a pulse. CPR was started, but Romero died.
Romero’s daughter, Crystal Romero, said that the two had a complicated relationship but that he was a great father.
“He basically taught me everything I need to know to live,” Romero said. “He taught me to cook, change things at houses, put up drywall and sheetrock. Different little things – things for my vehicle, cooking.”
Romero’s sister has started filing a wrongful death suit.
Aug. 31, 2020:
Jeffrey East, 48, died of chronic ethanol abuse. The manner of death was determined to be natural. East had been arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge on Aug. 30. He was being watched for alcohol, opiate and benzodiazepine detox and was in isolation because of COVID precautions. He was checked on every 10 to 15 minutes, according to reports, but a little after 6 p.m. a correctional officer delivering dinner discovered him unresponsive in his cell. An MDC spokeswoman said that well-being checks were conducted in accordance with policy and that none was missed.
Penny Scott, East’s girlfriend of one year, said the two loved to travel and had planned on getting married.
“Jeff was a really kind, gentle man,” Scott said. “I never had so much fun as the year I spent with him.”
She said she was notified through an app that he had been released and then when she called the jail she found out he had died.
Sept. 16, 2020:
Leroy Nieto, 50, had been arrested on Aug. 28 for allegedly threatening his neighbor with a handgun during a fight while intoxicated. He was taken to the hospital and then booked into the county jail. On Sept. 15, he was vomiting and complaining of stomach and back pain and said he had taken a lot of Rolaids and it was aggravating a hernia. Nieto was taken to the medical unit and then to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where he died in surgery. An autopsy was not performed, and cause of death was not provided in the incident reports.
Anna Baca, Nieto’s sister, said he had a lot of medical issues – including diabetes – and had called her from jail to say he was not being given the medicine he needed to digest his food. She said he had been a chef at one point but was run over by a car and no longer was able to cook with the same dexterity.
“He was outgoing,” she said. “He loved to cook and laugh. He used to like to garden and listen to music.”
Sept. 23, 2020:
Samuel Bryant, 46, died of toxic effects of methamphetamine with contributing factors of opiate withdrawal. The manner of death was determined to be accidental. Bryant was arrested on Sept. 22 on a warrant for failing to appear for a hearing in a domestic violence case. Incident reports state he vomited in his cell and yelled and banged on the door and walls throughout the night. When a detox nurse went to check his vital signs, he was found unresponsive on the floor. Rescue efforts were done, but Bryant died.
Peggy Bryant, Samuel’s stepmother, said he was a natural salesman who could “sell snowballs to the devil” and had fathered six children over the years.
“He was very personable,” Bryant said. “Everybody loved him.”
Bryant’s son has started filing a wrongful death suit.
Sept. 29, 2020: Shaun McBurnie, 51, died by hanging. The manner of death was determined to be suicide. McBurnie was arrested Aug. 14 in the homicide of his wife and spent five days on suicide watch because he doused himself in gasoline before his arrest. More than a month later, McBurnie was found hanging after his cellmate was taken to the infirmary. McBurnie’s cellmate told investigators that McBurnie had his demons and talked about “wanting to die every day.” Investigators found two handwritten notes near McBurnie’s body; one was a prayer, and the other said that his cellmate “had nothing to do with this” and that when he went to medical he “had his chance.”
Family could not be reached by the Journal.
Oct. 4, 2020: Nickolas Garcia, 35, died of chronic ethanol abuse. The manner of death was determined to be natural. Garcia was arrested on Oct. 3 for allegedly driving while intoxicated. According to incident reports, Garcia was sleeping on a cot in the middle of a detox pod next to other inmates. When officers did a welfare check, they found he was not responsive and not breathing. Rescue efforts were started, and Garcia was pronounced dead.
His family could not be reached for comment.
Nov. 28, 2020: Jerry Mariner, also known as Paton, 61, died from pneumonia in the right lung. The manner of death was determined to be natural. Mariner was arrested Nov. 24 on a warrant in a car burglary case and was on medical watch and receiving oxygen. An officer found Mariner not breathing during cell checks, and he was pronounced dead soon afterward. An investigator wrote that Mariner, who was homeless, had no emergency contact or next of kin listed.
“I was unable to notify any family of his death,” the report says. Family could not be reached by the Journal.
Nov. 28, 2020: Ronny Pacheco, 34, died by hanging. The manner of death was determined to be suicide. Pacheco was arrested Nov. 25 on a warrant in a home burglary case and placed in the detox unit. Pacheco was found hanging in his cell in the detox unit by an officer and medical staff as they conducted medical checks around the unit. Correctional officers tried to resuscitate Pacheco, but he was pronounced dead soon after. A corrections officer was placed on administrative leave, and a probationary officer – found to be sleeping at the time – was terminated.
An obituary for Pacheco says, “You have blessed us all with beautiful, wonderful, crazy, funny memories of you. Your beautiful smiling eyes will live in our hearts forever.” Family could not be reached by the Journal.
Jan. 30, 2021: Joleen Nez, 38, lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, where she died. A cause of death has not been released. Nez was booked Jan. 29 on a warrant in a littering case from months earlier. Nez had been reportedly “vomiting all day” before an orderly in the detox unit found her not breathing. Nez was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she died on Feb. 3.