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Santa Fe Guards Rape Prisoners, Neglect Kills Another

Two female prisoners were raped by
Santa Fe jail guards within a ninety-day period. Santa Fe guards have been implicated in at least eight sexual assaults since 1999. Two of the victims were-minors.

In April 2003, John Robertson, 39, was charged with two counts of second degree criminal sexual penetration of a 16-year-old female prisoner at the Santa Fe County Youth Detention Center. Jail officials from the juvenile facility declined to comment about the incident.

Most recently, an unnamed 39-year-old guard was accused of raping a female prisoner in the Santa Fe County Jail on June 13, 2003. Sheriff Greg Solano would say only that the case was "still under investigation..."

The victim was taken to St. Vincent Hospital but "due to circumstances surrounding the case, a rape kit was not done." As of June 17, 2003 no administrative action had been taken against the guard.

Substandard medical conditions at the Santa Fe County Detention Center (SFCDC) prompted federal investigators to declare that facility unconstitutional. Sanitary conditions caused such concern that Warden Cody Graham and Major Greg Lee were removed from their jobs. It was under these inhumane and insensitive conditions that Jimmy Villanueva died.

SFCDC is run by Utah based Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a private prison operator who inherited the jail after a rash of scandals unseated its predecessor Cornell Co. The medical department is run by Physicians Network Association (PNA) who holds 14 contracts in three states, Florida, Texas and New Mexico.

Jimmy Villanueva was no saint. Heroin had put him in jail five times in thirty years. His latest sentence was six months. He never made it home. From the day he arrived at SFCDC, in early July, Villanueva complained of pain in his back and ribs. This alone was unusual because apart from his 5'8", 300 lb frame it was his light-hearted, easy-going and care-free demeanor that set him apart. So when Villanueva began to complain about his health those around him took notice. "His back was always sore, always bothering him," says Manuel Valencia. "He knew something was wrong with him but he didn't know what."

Villanueva's condition deteriorated so badly that he could hardly move from his bunk. Jerry Freeman recalls, "People were getting his meals, heating his coffee.. He was that immobile."

Finally fortune seemed to favor the gentle giant. Dr. Vernon Farthing, the founder of PNA, having flown in on his corporate jet, was visiting SFCDC and was treating patients in the Santa Fe jail. Farthing examined Villanueva and referred him for X-rays to determine the source of the pain in his back and ribs.

On October 3,2002 Jimmy was examined again by Santa Fe Radiology where X-rays were taken. Dr. Jonathan Lehman noted that Villanueva's lungs were infirm and belabored. He also noticed an "expansile abnormality" which he diagnosed as a possible "neoplasm" or, in layman's terms, cancer.

Unfortunately, that's where Villanueva's treatment ended. In spite of the diagnosis by Dr. Lehman, Jimmy was returned to jail, given a few blood tests, and diagnosed with chronic back pain for which he was given pain killers. It wasn't long before Villanueva could not even leave his bed to get his pain medication.

"It would take him 15 minutes to get down those stairs and another 15 minutes to get back up," says Billy Gano who lived on the dorm with Villanueva. "He missed his drugs a lot because he was getting to the point he just couldn't move."

Policy for the "med-line" in SFCDC prohibits nurses from bringing medication to bedridden patients so for a time his fellow prisoners would literally carry the 300 lb Villanueva to get his pills.

One nurse, employed by PNA, said, "I remember seeing [Villanueva] in medical. The nurses kept telling the doctor that there was something wrong." Unfortunately, Villanueva's pleas, the nurses' pleas, and the pleas of his friends fell on deaf ears. His pain medication became as ineffective as his treatment.

Neglect by SFCDC medical continued for months in spite of the fact that Farthing visited the facility regularly. By mid-January Villanueva's condition had deteriorated so badly that prisoners on the dorm nearly rioted in an effort to get him help.

"We raised hell," said Gano. "We kept telling the nurse to bring the medicine to him! We were all yelling: He can't make it down the stairs! Take the medicine to him!"

The security situation became so precarious a guard eventually acquired Villanueva's medication and brought it to him. But the unprecedented gesture was too little, too late.

Jerry Freeman recalls, "the last night he was there, he was in so much pain, he was crawling around. To see a man that large crawling around was awful." On the night of December 10, 2003 Villanueva was silently evacuated from the jail amidst ethereal incantations of his dorm-mates circled in prayer. Some knew that prayers would not be enough. "I knew when I saw them take him through those doors, I would never see him again," Valencia said.

Upon his arrival at St. Vincent's Hospital, Villanueva described to Dr. Rebecca Bair how the persistent pain in his back and ribs had escalated into complete numbness in his lower body. After immediately ordering an MRI, Bair diagnosed metastatic cancer in two places on Villanueva's spine. The prognosis was grim. Villanueva was immediately placed on radiation treatments but once cancer has metasticized into the bloodstream complete elimination is virtually impossible.

On January 14, 2003 Villanueva called his sister Priscilla Romero and said, "Sis, I'm here at the hospital. I need to talk with you. There's something wrong with me."

When Romero arrived the next day her brother gave her the bad news. "I don't think I'm gonna beat this shit," he tearfully told her. He was right. In spite of massive doses of radiation the tumors had taken their toll. Cancer had eaten away at his insides during those months in jail. Less than two weeks later, on January 23, at 6:45pm, Jimmy Villanueva died.

Investigating the grotesque nature of Villanueva's suffering and death, the Santa Fe Reporter consulted three independent physicians with Dr. Lehman's initial assessment of the October X-rays. While none were directly familiar with Villanueva's case all three agreed that he should at least have been given a CAT scan.

"The report was not equivocal," said.Dr. Sandra Penn, medical director for the Penitentiary of New Mexico. "The specialist clearly stated there was a problem. I would have sent him to get a CAT scan. I would have scheduled a biopsy. I would have had him in a doctor's office for a follow-up within 48 hours."

PNA medical staff did none of the above. Dr. Arturo Calderon, PNA's on site physician for SFCDC, had examined Villanueva but refused to comment for the record. Katherine Graham was PNA's regional medical consultant (and Warden Graham's wife) at the time of Villanueva's death; her office was inside SFCDC infirmary. She also declined comment.

Dr. Farthing defends his creation, PNA, saying, "We have never solicited one contract. People solicit us because of our expertise."

However, Farthing's lack of expertise may well have cost Villanueva his life. Farthing had ordered one follow-up X-ray subsequent to Dr. Lehman's assessment of Villanueva's condition. However, Farthing only ordered a chest X-ray. When asked why he did not order further X-rays of Villanueva's ribs, where Dr. Lehman had indicated the lesions, Farthing replied, "This was a follow-up to both. Every radiologist that X-rays a person's chest, by law, has to look at the ribs. The radiologist did not discuss the ribs, because there were no significant findings."

Dr. David Lynch, professor of radiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center disagrees with Farthing's comment. "The rib films are to show the ribs. The chest is to show the chest," he said. Additionally, a Department of Justice (DOJ) report specifically cites PNA for consistent failure to follow specialist's recommendations. The DOJ also concluded that SFCDC prisoners had incurred "serious harm" from inadequate health care.

MTC did not comment specifically on the DOJ report but continued to remain "confident in the medical service" delivered by PNA. MTC also said they would work to resolve "any issues as they may arise." One of those issues will certainly be the lawsuit being brought by Villanueva's family.

Farthing adamantly maintains that PNA is "not a callous, uncaring, hateful organization." That only leaves incompetent. g

Sources: Santa Fe Reporter, Santa Fe New Mexican, Albuquerque Journal

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