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The mother of a Bernalillo County jail inmate who fatally hanged himself in his cell in 2020 is suing the county and the jail’s former health care provider alleging negligent behavior by staff contributed to his death.
Security video shows Ronny Pacheco, 34, remained hanging by a bed sheet for 1 hour, 19 minutes before staff at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center arrived in his cell, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges that Pacheco’s mental health deteriorated rapidly during three days in solitary confinement. It alleges that MDC and Centurion Detention Health Services LLC failed to provide mental health services even as the inmate begged for help.
The suit names the Bernalillo County Board of Commissioners, Centurion and two of Centurion’s employees as defendants.
Tia Bland, a Bernalillo County spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit.
Al Park, an attorney for Centurion, did not respond this week to voice and email messages seeking comment.
Centurion pulled out of its contract with Bernalillo County earlier this year, more than a year early. The county now has a four-year contract with Corizon Health to provide health care services at MDC.
Pacheco is one of 13 MDC inmates who died in custody since April 2020. Pacheco’s was one of two deaths by suicide.
The suit alleges two MDC corrections officers assigned to Pacheco’s unit failed to conduct appropriate welfare checks as required.
Pacheco’s attorney, Laura Schauer Ives, said that one of the officers was asleep at the time Pacheco hanged himself.
“One (officer) was asleep and would have had a perfect view into (Pacheco’s) cell even from where she sat,” Schauer Ives said in a phone interview.
“The other (officer) walked by Ronny’s cell at least two times after we believe he hanged himself,” she said.
Security video showed that the second officer looked into the window of Pacheco’s cell at least twice but “made no acknowledgement of Ronny’s condition,” the suit said.
At the time of his death on Nov. 28, 2020, Pacheco had remained in solitary confinement for three days under the jail’s COVID-19 quarantine rules, the suit said.
Pacheco was allowed out of his cell a total of 2 hours and 49 minutes during the three days he remained in custody, the suit alleges.
He had not been out of his cell for 24 hours at the time he hanged himself, it said.
His “serious mental health issues” worsened during his time in solitary, the suit alleges.
Schauer Ives said Pacheco begged corrections officers for help in the hours before he took his own life.
“We were able to speak to other prisoners who have described him screaming and begging for help, and then suddenly going silent,” Schauer Ives said.
“Anybody can deteriorate really rapidly in solitary,” she said. “It puts anybody under a tremendous amount of psychological stress. That’s why it’s important to monitor people under those conditions.”
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages and costs.