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Santa Fe County, jail, hospital sued in teen’s overdose death

SANTA FE – Alleging that an untrained Santa Fe County jail guard engaged in a cover-up and took no action to have a teenager who’d overdosed on heroin checked after she was released from a local hospital while still “out of it,” the girl’s estate has sued the county, guards, the hospital and the hospital doctor who allowed her release.

The lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of Desiree Gonzales, who was sent to the jail after being released by the local hospital the night of her May 7 overdose.

“Because she took drugs and had an outstanding warrant for a probation violation, she was treated as a prisoner who deserved to be pushed out of the hospital as fast as possible, thrown into a cell and left to die,” says the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says a guard initially told hospital personnel that 17-year-old Gonzales was not checked for 2½ hours at the jail before she was found unresponsive with no pulse and not breathing. But the guard later changed his story on a supervisor’s orders, saying Gonzales was checked every 15 minutes, including by waking her up, the lawsuit alleges.

The suit quotes medical records showing that hospital personnel reported that the purported every-15-minutes checks were “a change from his (the guard’s) original story.”

The alleged cover-up also “includes records made after the fact for the sole purpose of trying to avoid responsibility for allowing Desiree to die,” states the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also says a “life skills” worker at the jail checked her at 1 a.m. and documented that she was breathing awkwardly and sometimes not breathing, but didn’t notify medical personnel. Gonzales was found unresponsive and not breathing at 1:43 a.m., the suit states.

“Her cries for help in the form of altered mental state, chest pain, anxiety, gasping for air, gurgling noises during breathing and a completely stopping breathing were all ignored,” the suit maintains.

County government has conducted an internal investigation into Gonzales’ death but has kept it secret.

The night of Gonzales died, emergency personnel were called to a Santa Fe apartment where she had overdosed. She was given the heroin reversal drug Narcan – which can wear off – and transported to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

The lawsuit says she was cleared by a physician for incarceration but without “reasonable” instructions for how she was to be monitored. She was taken by police to the Youth Development Center jail because there was a warrant for her arrest on a probation violation, apparently for running away from a rehab program.

The suit notes a quote from a jail worker, previously reported in police documents, who said Gonzales was “out of it” when she was booked at 10:35 p.m. The suit says records show a guard found her gasping for air and making gurgling noises about 11 p.m. when she laid down in her cell.

After she was found unresponsive at 1:43 a.m., she was taken back to the hospital and died later the morning of July 8. “Had she been in the hospital when her condition worsened, she would have survived,” the suit asserts.