Witnesses said jail staff accused her of faking seizures. She died hours later. - Albuquerque Journal

Witnesses said jail staff accused her of faking seizures. She died hours later.

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

In the 24 hours leading up to April Trujillo’s death in a detox pod at the county jail in late November, a medical team was called three times. The 41-year-old mother of three was reportedly throwing up repeatedly, had collapsed at least twice, and had several seizures.

April Trujillo, 41 (Courtesy of Kali Gonzalez)

Multiple people in the room at the time have said that both the correctional officers and the medical staff were dismissive of Trujillo, telling her she was faking it or was “just detoxing” and would be fine. Two witnesses told the Journal that they heard medical or correctional staff say something like “this is what happens when you do drugs. If you don’t want to feel this way, don’t do drugs, don’t come to jail.”

Both witnesses have since been released and spoke to the Journal alongside attorney Parrish Collins, who is representing Trujillo’s family.

It wasn’t until the last time nurses were called that they attempted to take Trujillo to the medical unit for treatment.

It was too late.

Trujillo collapsed as they put her in the wheelchair. She died Nov. 30 on the floor amidst rows of low plastic beds – called boats – where inmates are held while they detox from drugs or alcohol.

In response to questions about the witnesses’ accounts of Trujillo’s treatment, whether she should have been taken to the medical unit earlier and whether anyone had been disciplined, a Bernalillo County spokesman replied repeatedly: “Still an ongoing investigation.”

As to what the county had done to address detox deaths and prevent more from happening, county spokesman Larry Gallegos said medical care of inmates is a top priority.

“The county manager and jail leadership are actively addressing concerns,” he wrote in a statement.

In response to similar questions, a spokeswoman for YesCare – the jail’s medical provider – said Trujillo’s death was an unfortunate and tragic event.

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to her loved ones,” the spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “Due to HIPAA patient protections,YesCare is not able to comment further at this time other than to say our commitment and focus is to continuously monitor and improve every facility in which we provide patient care.”

Plagued by understaffing

Trujillo was the 18th person to die in custody of the Metropolitan Detention Center since the beginning of 2020, several of whom were also detoxing or in withdrawal. Three months earlier, a 41-year-old man died while detoxing from fentanyl at the jail.

An expert tasked with evaluating medical care at the jail as part of an ongoing settlement agreement found in August that the medical team was not screening or managing inmates’ withdrawal symptoms adequately, and the process for getting sick inmates help was “not reliable.”

The facility has been plagued by understaffing among correctional and medical staff.

Attorney Kate Loewe, who represents people in MDC on behalf of the McClendon settlement agreement mandating jail reforms, said many of her clients have told her that Trujillo was so sick she crawled on her hands and knees to the water fountain, and still was not taken to the medical unit.

“How can the county let this happen again,” Loewe asked. “MDC is 20 minutes from any hospital. It’s understaffed with security and medical. It really seems like they need to be erring on the side of caution and getting people help immediately.”

Loewe said she, too, has heard from witnesses that staff told Trujillo she was “just detoxing.”

“It is appalling at this point that those words would pass anyone’s lips, given the number of people over the past 2½ years who have died while … on a detox pod at MDC,” Loewe said.

Lawsuit to be filed

Trujillo was arrested for drug possession after a bike patrol officer found her with one “partially melted” blue pill, a pipe, foil and lighter in the parking lot of Total Wine & More liquor store in Uptown on Nov. 27.

Her case was dismissed two days later “due to an insufficient amount of suspected controlled substance available for scientific testing by both parties.”

She still spent the night in jail, and died there early the next morning.

Gallegos said the jail releases people “when we receive the documents from the courts.” He said the investigation into why Trujillo was still in custody at the time of her death is ongoing.

At 7:10 a.m. on Nov. 30, a correctional officer called in a medical emergency because “Trujillo was lying on her bed perpendicular” and “seemed lethargic,” according to an incident report from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office that was released to the Journal in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request.

The medical team asked for a wheelchair for Trujillo so they could take her to the medical area. Instead, she became limp and lost consciousness, prompting the nurse to administer a dose of Narcan, which had no effect. She wasn’t breathing.

“The staff moved inmate Trujillo from the wheelchair to the floor and began CPR,” the incident report states. “Medical and MDC staff performed CPR until paramedics arrived at approximately 0750 hours. CPR was administered for approximately twenty minutes with no signs of life or heart function.”

She was pronounced dead at 8:12 a.m.

An investigator with the Office of the Medical Investigator noted a small cut on the back of Trujillo’s head and “stated the laceration could have been caused by a seizure.” No drugs were found in her area. Her family has told the Journal that Trujillo had a seizure disorder. Collins, the attorney representing the family, said he plans to file a lawsuit in the next couple of months.

‘They were cruel to her’

In his report, the deputy who responded to the jail said a correctional officer told him the medical unit had been called regarding Trujillo three times in 24 hours – twice on the swing shift and once during the graveyard shift.

The deputy was “unable to speak to anyone who knew what inmate Trujillo’s condition was at the time the medical emergencies were called.”

However, the two women who were in the detox unit at the time told the Journal that Trujillo was clearly having seizures and was in need of serious medical help that was not provided. They both described other inmates trying to get her help, while correctional officers and medical staff insisted Trujillo was fine or was faking her seizures.

Emma Bordegaray, 31, was booked into jail a couple of days after Trujillo. She said Trujillo was in the boat in front of her and, although everyone else in the detox unit was sick and throwing up, she seemed to be in particularly bad shape.

Bordegaray said Trujillo collapsed – and other inmates said she was having a seizure – as she was getting dinner and the nurses who responded took her pulse, and told her she was fine and to go back to her bed.

Later that night, Bordegaray was awoken by inmates screaming and saw that Trujillo had collapsed again, this time by the water fountain. The medical staff were called again.

“Then they were like, ‘Get up’ and she couldn’t get up. They’re like, ‘Fine, you want to stay on the ground, April, fine, you can stay on the ground. We’re going to go ahead and just leave you on the ground until you’re ready to get up and walk the way you came. You were able to get up, you’re able to go back,’ ” Bordegaray recalled, tearing up. “And she wasn’t. So they, like, picked her up by her clothing and, like, dragged her back to her cot and, like, threw her on top of it.”

Another woman, Elizabeth Castaneda-Abarca, 50, who said she was a combat war veteran who had also been a medic, corroborated much of Bordegaray’s account.

Castaneda-Abarca told the Journal that Trujillo had three serious seizures leading up to her death and, by the end, her whole body had shifted a quarter turn.

“She was foaming from the mouth,” Castaneda-Abarca said. “We started trying to do chest compressions – we did do chest compressions – and we’re yelling, the three of us, we’re yelling and then even the girls that were behind us in the cells started banging and kicking, ‘get help, get help.’ ”

She said the correctional officer said Trujillo was faking it and it was some time before medical help was called.

Bordegaray said she feels like a very different person after that night. When she got home, she looked up Trujillo’s family on social media to tell them what she saw.

“The heartbreak and the anger, for me, comes from the fact that they didn’t even try … ” Bordegaray said. “Maybe she would have died still, I don’t know, but they didn’t even try. I feel like if they had … taken her to medical or, you know, listened to her, or, I don’t know, listened to everybody else, and she still died, I think that would have been different … not only did they not do anything, they were cruel to her on top of that.”

Kali Gonzalez, 18, left, and her sister Charlie Ridenour, 15, seen here on January 5, 2023, hold a cellphone with a photograph of their mother, April Trujillo, the inmate who died in custody last November, while detoxing at MDC. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

‘I’m just kind of, like, lost now’

When her three kids were little, Trujillo was strict about rules and “OCD” about cleaning the house. Her children say they always came first and she was the kind of mother you could tell anything. In more recent years, she was struggling, but always tried to give them presents or new clothes.

“She loved going out and doing stuff, and she was very energetic,” her youngest, 15-year-old Charlee Ridenour, said. “The only time she was down and in bed is when something would happen and, like, she’d take it really hard. But anybody that knows her or met her, it’s always like, you know, something good. You never hear something bad.”

The last time Ridenour saw Trujillo was the Saturday before her mother was arrested, when the two met up at a Circle K convenience store.

“She just got paid, so she was happy she could eat … ” Ridenour said. “She was really in a good mood. She told me she loved me and she just wanted to come home.”

Ridenour had been staying with her grandparents in Bernalillo after the two had lost their apartment last year.

Then, a couple of days later, when neither Ridenour nor her sister, Kali Gonzalez, nor anyone else had heard from Trujillo, the whole family began to get worried.

“So, I went looking around for her,” 18-year-old Gonzalez said. “I cleared my whole schedule … just so I could go look around for her. I couldn’t find her.”

It wasn’t long before Gonzalez got a call from the Office of the Medical Investigator telling her Trujillo had died.

The family held a funeral Friday with relatives from around the state and country. In conversations with her granddaughters, Trujillo’s mother has wondered if anyone in the jail feels guilty for what happened in her final hours. Ridenour and Gonzalez still can’t quite believe their mother is gone.

“Everyone always said my mom wasn’t my mom without me, and that I wasn’t me without my mom,” Ridenour said. “So I’m just kind of, like, lost now.”

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