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Two Albuquerque Jailers Indicted for Killing Prisoner

by Matt Clarke

On May 18, 2021, two jail guards at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico were indicted for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the asphyxiation death of a prisoner at the jail in 2019.

Video recordings show that guards used force on MDC prisoner Vicente Villela after he refused to move to another cell on February 2, 2019. The guards pinned Villela down and kneeled on his back. He told them he could not breathe, but they ignored it, and soon he stopped moving—or living.

MDC Sergeant Keith Brandon, 45, and jail guard Jonathan Sandoval, 34, were indicted for one count each of the fourth-degree felony of involuntary manslaughter in connection with Villela’s death. They each face a maximum penalty of 18 months imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

Neither jailer was arrested prior to their indictment. Each was allowed to be represented by private attorneys—John D’Amato for Brandon and Sam Bregman for Sandoval—during the indictment proceedings. Even after they were indicted, they were not arrested, but rather given a notice to appear for arraignment and bail bond setting.

The indictments state that each acted “with a total disregard or indifference to the safety of others, and the act was such that an ordinary person would anticipate death might occur under the circumstances” in violation of Section 30-02-03(B), NMSA 1978.

Despite the seriousness of the charges, the pair have been handled with kid gloves, having suffered neither arrest nor disciplinary action for allegedly killing Villela as of the arraignment. A MDC spokesperson said they were on paid administrative leave and would continue to be on it pending the outcome of the court proceedings.

“An internal investigation was completed and based on these findings administration took corrective action,” according to the spokesperson. “In response to the latest development it was decided to place both officers on administrative leave pending the disposition of the Grand Jury hearing.”

“Due to the findings of the Grand Jury on May 18, 2021, both officers will remain on administrative leave pending their due process in the Criminal Justice System.” See: State of New Mexico v. Sandavol, Case No. D202CR-2021-1015 and State of New Mexico v. Brandon, Case No. D202CR-2021-1014, 2nd Judicial Court, Bernalillo County.

Writer’s note: That is a sweet deal! Kill a prisoner, get paid vacation all the way through trial.

One also wonders, what were the findings of the internal investigation? A Grand Jury indictment is a finding of probable cause that the defendant committed the crime. Could the internal investigation have found otherwise? If not, why were the two jailers not subjected to disciplinary action and fired? 


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Related legal cases

State of New Mexico v. Brandon

State of New Mexico v. Sandavol