Reports detail three deaths in three weeks at Metropolitan Detention Center - Albuquerque Journal

Reports detail three deaths in three weeks at Metropolitan Detention Center

A 20-year-old who had been in jail for more than a year and started methadone treatment about two days before his death.

A 43-year-old woman who was alone in a cell detoxing from drugs after getting caught stealing loose change from an unlocked car.

A 64-year-old former correctional officer who was denied medication for his opioid use disorder after his arrest and ended up killing himself.

These are some of the details included in incident reports about three deaths in the state’s largest jail over the course of three weeks earlier this year. The reports from the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office were recently released to the Journal in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act request.

The cases are the latest among a dramatic increase of in-custody deaths at Metropolitan Detention Center over the past three years. Among the 21 deaths since the start of 2020, 11 have been among people who were withdrawing from drugs or alcohol, according to Journal records.

Advocates, attorneys and jail staff have cited severe understaffing among medical and security personnel as being behind many of the deaths and Bernalillo County has taken some steps to bolster its ranks — including offering pay raises and starting bonuses for guards.

In the past couple of months the county and attorneys in the McClendon Settlement Agreement — which mandates reforms at the jail — agreed to a Corrective Action Plan laying out 38 issues at MDC and the tasks, processes and expectations for how each should be addressed.

However, attorney Kate Loewe said that already one of those expectations — that if someone withdrawing from substances is in a cell they have a “watcher who is separate from the pod officer” — has apparently not been implemented.

“Since that court order was entered on January 17 we had two people die in cells presumably without watch officers,” Loewe said. “I don’t know why that’s happening.”

She also pointed out that the plan calls for methadone or suboxone to treat withdrawal symptoms.

“The withdrawal management processes are supposed to be consistent with the community standards of care …,” Loewe said. “People don’t experience these life-threatening withdrawal events if it’s properly treated, as I understand it.”

A Bernalillo County spokeswoman said she could not answer numerous questions about the three deaths or the apparent lack of a watcher.

“The incidents you’ve inquired about are either under investigation or a part of lawsuits,” said spokeswoman Tia Bland. “We cannot discuss these matters at this time.”

Suspected overdose

Jesús Alonso Ramírez Olivas, 20, had been at MDC since Christmas Day 2021.

Jesús Alonso Ramírez Olivas, 20 (Courtesy of Ramírez Olivas’ family)

He had been charged with homicide by vehicle after reportedly T-boning an SUV in his white Camaro. Witnesses described him driving more than 100 miles per hour and swerving “all over the road” before crashing in the intersection of Coors and Glenrio NW.

His family said they were not yet ready to speak with the Journal about Ramírez Olivas — who they called “Junior.”

In a Go Fund Me site they described him as “one of the sweetest kids” who “always tried being the best person he could.”

“We are trying to find answers on how he could have passed away if he had no record of having any illness,” his older sister wrote on the site. “He was however sick for around two weeks. The night before he passed away he gave us a call to tell my mom he was feeling better and wasn’t sick anymore.”

According to incident reports, around 8 a.m. Jan. 13 — right after officers started letting inmates out of their cells for recreational time — Ramírez Olivas’ cellmate rushed downstairs to report that “something is wrong” with him. He said that he thought Ramírez Olivas had overdosed.

When officers went to the cell they put Ramírez Olivas on the floor and started chest compressions, according to a report. They said his ear was blue and he was still warm. Medical staff arrived and took over but Ramírez Olivas died.

Ramírez Olivas’ cellmate said he had started taking methadone about two days earlier and was on a 15-milligram dose, according to a report. The medical staff told BCSO investigators that a starting dose for methadone is 30 milligrams.

Ramírez Olivas’ cause of death was not listed in the report. The Office of the Medical Investigator found he didn’t have any acute trauma and it requested an extended toxicology report but that report was not yet available.

Death while detox

When a nurse and a correctional officer asked Tanya Martinez if she wanted detox medication around 10 a.m. Jan. 23, the 43-year-old nodded. Martinez was being held in a cell off the detox room where inmates lie on cots lined across the floor.

Tanya Martinez, 43 (Courtesy of attorney Adam Baker)

The correctional officer asked Martinez to fill up her cup with water and as she did so the officer and the nurse went to give medication to another inmate, according to a report. When they returned they saw she was eating toilet paper.

“C.O. Parker and the detox nurse asked inmate Martinez to stop eating toilet paper and to come to the cell door area to take her medication,” an investigator wrote in a report. “Inmate Martinez did not answer or respond to the detox nurse or C.O. Parker and continued to eat toilet paper. The detox nurse then asked C.O. Parker to call (the Psychiatric Segregation Unit) so they could evaluate Martinez.”

The PSU nurse said they would review Martinez’s chart and come to the unit, according to an incident report. But by the time the officer returned to Martinez’s cell, she was already on the ground.

Staff administered Narcan and Martinez started to vomit. They put her on a wheelchair but she no longer responded to them and medical staff were unable to find her vital signs.

The staff took Martinez off the wheelchair and attempted CPR. Rescue crews arrived and took over until it was determined that she could not be saved, according to a report.

The Office of the Medical Investigator said Martinez had a small stature and “appeared to have very low body weight.” No contraband was found in her cell.

“What it sounded like to me was that she was suffering, and there just should not be stories of abject suffering continuing to come out of our county jail,” Loewe said. “I think we must treat incarcerated people with dignity and attend to their health and safety. The Constitution requires it, the court requires it and we as a community also have to require it.”

Martinez’s family is being represented by a lawyer who said he is investigating her death.

Attorney Adam Baker said she was “very close with her four children and her mother and enjoyed a loving relationship with them despite the fact that she suffered form mental illness and drug addiction.”

“We see this case not as being just about Tanya Martinez slipping through the cracks but about the systemic failures of medical staff and correctional staff at MDC,” he added.

Martinez had been arrested three days before her death and charged with auto burglary and larceny after a couple reported that they saw her in their car looking around for loose change. The couple detained Martinez until an officer arrived, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.

They said the car was likely unlocked and a “handful of coins in a compartment of the glove box” were missing. Martinez was also wanted on a warrant for possession of a controlled substance and battery on a peace officer — for spitting on an officer who was arresting her for possession of a controlled substance.

Suicide behind bars

Nearly 20 years ago Chris Moya was a correctional officer at MDC. He was injured on the job and then fired.

According to a New Mexico Supreme Court opinion about a lawsuit Moya filed against the city regarding his workers compensation, 15 to 20 correctional officers beat up an inmate who had been part of starting a riot at another facility.

Chris Moya, 64 (Courtesy of attorney Nicole Moss)

As Moya was escorting the inmate out of the area he was accidentally hit in the neck and shoulder by another officer who was trying to strike the inmate, according to a lawsuit.

“Worker said he was pressured by superior officers to alter his testimony about the beatings, but he said he testified truthfully about the beatings in the internal affairs investigation,” an opinion states. “Employer fired him on March 12, 2004.”

The path that led Moya back to MDC — this time on the other side of the bars — started when he was stopped for speeding in Bernalillo and received a summons for driving with a revoked license.

After Moya failed to appear in court in that case and another out of Albuquerque, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested by BCSO on Jan. 31 and booked into MDC — held in the Restrictive Housing Unit because he used to be a correctional officer.

On Feb. 2, a little before noon, an officer passing by Moya’s cell saw he had hanged himself with a blanket that he had ripped up and tied to the top bunk. Officers tried to save him, but he died.

When investigators interviewed a bay orderly he said Moya had requested methadone because he was on the program outside the jail and didn’t want to go through withdrawals. He said the program’s coordinators told Moya that they could not give him any since he was to be transferred to another county jail.

“Inmate Moya mentioned to (the bay orderly) that he was upset that he was not put on the methadone program and appeared distraught,” the investigators wrote in the report. “Inmate Moya told (the bay orderly) that he just feels like dying.”

Attorney Nicole Moss who is representing Moya’s family said his children are very upset by what happened and are looking for answers. She pointed out that the circumstances surrounding Moya’s death are similar to those surrounding the suicide of another man who was withdrawing from opioids about a year ago.

“It greatly increases the risk of suicide and they should be well aware of that given the population that they work with,” Moss said. “There’s a lot of substance abuse and they need to know how to safely house people. So if he was going through withdrawal — which it sounds like he was — and he was crying out for help and no one was helping him that’s a real problem.”

A timeline of people who died in custody of NM’s largest jail since start of 2020


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