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Jails blamed after woman dies in custody

SANTA FE, N.M. — Lawyers for the mother of an Ohkay Owingeh woman who died after consecutive stays in the Santa Fe and Rio Arriba county jails earlier this year have given notice of intent to file a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing both facilities of “deliberate indifference” and inadequate care for the woman’s medical conditions.

Stacy Gambler, 36, who was being held on warrants for failure to appear in court or pay fines in separate cases for driving without a license and for not wearing a seat belt, died after being flown to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe early May 3. She had been found unresponsive at the Rio Arriba jail in Tierra Amarilla late the night before.

The tort claim letter from Santa Fe attorneys Mark Donatelli, John C. Bienvenu and Morgan E. Honeycutt says Gambler requested medical treatment on May 2, but that the Rio Arriba jail’s staff “did not respond to her request,” an allegation that jail director Larry Deyapp denies.

Records from the Rio Arriba jail show that Gambler indicated that she regularly used alcohol and that she needed immediate medical attention for “withdrawals” when she was booked in after being transported from the Santa Fe jail with eight other prisoners the night of April 24, more than a week before she was flown to the hospital.

Although Gambler had been in the Santa Fe jail the six previous days, Rio Arriba jail personnel indicated on her booking sheet that she showed signs of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs and of withdrawal symptoms that night in Tierra Amarilla. A booking release report from the Santa Fe jail says she was cleared for transport from a medical unit cell.

She was transferred to the Rio Arriba lockup because her cases were from that county. Before the transport by van to Tierra Amarilla, the Santa Fe jail records show that Gambler had been held in a Santa Fe medical pod, starting in the early hours of April 19.

Stacy Gambler died after being flown to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe early May 3 after being found unresponsive in Rio Arriba jail late the night before.

Stacy Gambler died after being flown to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe early May 3 after being found unresponsive in Rio Arriba jail late the night before.

“Our preliminary investigation leads us to conclude that Ms. Gambler’s injuries and death are the direct and proximate result of the conduct of the employees, officials and operators of the SFADC (Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center) and the RADC (Rio Arriba Detention Center), including inadequate polices and procedures, deficiencies in hiring, training and supervision, inadequate medical care, and deliberate indifference to medical needs,” says the lawyers’ July 24 letter to officials in both counties.

Deyapp said this week that his facility has nothing to hide.

“There was nothing hokey going on,” Deyapp said in an interview. “She received medical attention in Santa Fe and she received medical attention in our jail.

“An inmate died and that’s a tragedy,” he said. “I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t.” He cited the legal restrictions on releasing personal medical information about prisoners or patients.

“It’s horrible – I really feel for the family,” he said.

Santa Fe County officials had no comment on the case because of the possibility of litigation.

Held first in SF medical unit

The tort claim letter sent on behalf of Gambler’s mother, Sophie Cata, says that Gambler was staying in a medical unit in the Santa Fe jail after her April 18 arrest on a bench warrant and getting treatment there and that she was then was released to the Rio Arriba jail “where there is no medical treatment facility.”

Deyapp said that, while the Rio Arriba jail doesn’t have a medical unit, prisoners do receive care from a contract provider, California-based Southwest Correctional Medical Group.

The tort claim letter also raises questions about orders by Española Magistrate Judge Alexandra Naranjo to release Gambler from custody. The first was on April 27 in Gambler’s no-driver’s-license case, a couple of days after she was booked into the Rio Arriba County jail.

The second is a handwritten order on May 3, a Sunday and the day Gambler was flown to the hospital. In this second order provided by Rio Arriba County under a records request, Judge Naranjo makes it clear that Gambler can be released from custody in both of her pending cases.

Gambler “has permission from Rio Arriba Magistrate Court to be released due to a medical condition and her current admission into St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe,” the judge wrote. Deyapp said this week that he called Naranjo and sought the second release order.

Gambler had been sent to the Santa Fe hospital with an officer. Deyapp said removing a guard from a hospitalized prisoner can be risky, but he felt it was appropriate in this case, with Gambler facing only a traffic charge, and considering the expense to the county of keeping her under guard and technically still incarcerated. “This was a non-violent charge and I thought the judge should be made aware of it,” said Deyapp.

“It may have been different if this was a murder case,” he said.

Jail records show her released from the Rio Arriba jail at 9:30 a.m. May 3, many hours after she had been flown to Santa Fe. Deyapp says that’s because that’s about the time she was officially released from custody under Naranjo’s order.

The family’s tort claim notice suggests that Gambler should have been let go after Naranjo’s first release order on April 27 and says it was doctors at Christus St. Vincent who asked for the May 3 release order so Gambler’s family could be allowed to see her at the hospital.

Deyapp said the April 27 release order was only for one of Gambler’s cases. He said the jail never got the April 27 order, but couldn’t have released Gambler in any case because there was still an unresolved warrant in the other case.

No autopsy or cause of death report for Gambler has been available from the state Office of the Medical Investigator.

No serious criminal record found

Gambler does not appear to have had a serious criminal record, although she had been booked into the Santa Fe County jail eight times since 2010 and the available records appear to show an alcohol problem.

In addition to the two misdemeanor citations she was facing in the days before she died, she was charged in 2014 with non-residential burglary, but that case was dismissed, online court records show. In 2010, she pleaded no contest to having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Her jail records show that she was incarcerated for DWI, fleeing an officer and driving on a revoked or suspended license; public drunkenness; disobeying a lawful order; domestic violence under tribal code; and failure to appear, pay fines or comply with conditions of release.

In another case detail, Santa Fe County jail records show Gambler being released to Rio Arriba jail personnel for transport at 6:30 p.m. April 24. The Tierra Amarilla jail records indicate she wasn’t officially booked in there until about eight hours later – at 2:26 a.m. The tort claim letter doesn’t make an issue of this delay.

Deyapp said the van with the nine prisoners including Gambler got back to Tierra Amarilla about 8:30 p.m. April 24 and then the prisoners were each booked in succession, with Gambler being about the last one to get through the process, which takes about an hour. Jail records show that other inmates on the transport started getting booked in about 11 p.m.