New Mexico Jail Pays $500,000 for Prisoner’s Death
by Derek Gilna
When Eusemia Rodriguez, 33, was admitted to the jail in Santa Fe County, New Mexico on July 3, 2012 on a domestic battery charge, she advised employees that she was a drug and alcohol addict who was at risk for severe withdrawal. Several days later, following what medical experts described as “deliberate indifference” to her medical needs, she died after vomiting blood for several hours.
According to registered nurse Kathryn J. Wild, one of the experts who examined Rodriguez’s medical records, the Santa Fe jail failed to follow standards promulgated for similar institutions by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). The NCCHC standards mandate that medical screening be performed on all prisoners immediately upon their arrival at an intake facility by qualified healthcare professionals or other trained staff.
In the case of Rodriguez, who had been held at the jail a number of times for minor offenses, she was known to have an extensive medical history revolving around drug and alcohol abuse. According to jail records and statements from various witnesses, she had told jail staff that if she did not receive a “kick kit” to ease the symptoms of withdrawal, she would begin to suffer serious flu-like symptoms, nausea and vomiting.
That is precisely what happened. Although an order was entered for Rodriguez to receive a kick kit, there was no indication that order was followed. An autopsy found that Rodriguez died as a result of an electrolyte imbalance caused by continual vomiting triggered by her drug and alcohol withdrawal.
“Ms. Rodriguez was locked in a cell for almost nineteen (19) hours, no regular monitoring was done and no prescribed medications were administered,” Wild wrote. “Even other inmates reported they could identify the distress she was in and the severity of her conditions, yet no health care professional or correctional officer bothered to offer care or treatment.”
Nurse Wild concluded after examining medical reports from the jail that staff were “deliberately indifferent to [Rodriguez’s] severe medical needs.” Her findings contradicted those of the county medical examiner, which initially said Rodriguez had died due to “chronic alcoholism.” Attorney Doug Perrin, representing Rodriguez’s estate, noted that she had been ordered released from jail on the day of her death after posting a $3,000 bond, but the order was not carried out. She died later that evening while still in custody.
Several prisoners confined at the jail at the same time said Rodriguez had told staff and other prisoners about her addiction, and provided sworn statements describing her deteriorating medical condition. They also substantiated the fact that jail staff did little to monitor Rodriguez while she was in her cell.
The claim by Rodriguez’s estate against the county was resolved through mediation, and a $500,000 settlement was reached in late 2013 after several months of negotiation. Most of the money will reportedly go to her three children.
Apparently, however, the county did not learn much from Rodriguez’s death or the half-million-dollar settlement. In November 2014, Santa Fe jail prisoner Breanna Alissa Vasquez, 22, died due to spinal meningitis. She was sick when she was booked into the jail on a probation violation. Despite being on notice when Vasquez entered the facility that she needed medical care, a jail supervisor allegedly accused her of “faking” her illness and she was not taken to a hospital. She died two days later, on November 11. Vasquez’s family has filed a tort claim against the city and county.
“At least in this circumstance, it appears nothing has changed regarding medical treatment at the jail,” said attorney Tom Clark. “You have people dying as a result of not receiving treatment. There has got to be a way to fix this. This is not an isolated incident. This is a young woman that should have been at the hospital or in a medical unit.”
Sources: www.abqjournal.com, www.santafenewmexican.com
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