In both cases, they died less than 24 hours after they were booked in — Robert Gentile, Albuquerque attorney


Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The families of two people who died in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in 2020 have filed lawsuits against Bernalillo County, the jail and medical staff alleging they failed to treat the inmates for withdrawal symptoms.

Both deaths occurred during a deadly year for the state’s largest jail, where nine inmates died between April 2020 and January 2021. Six of those people died while detoxing from drugs or alcohol.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of the survivors of Joleen Nez, 38, who died in January 2020, and Nickolas Garcia, 35, who died in October 2020.

Officials should have known from jail records that both inmates were chronic alcoholics who needed to be placed on “medical watch,” but were not, said Robert Gentile, an Albuquerque attorney who filed both suits.

“In both cases, they died less than 24 hours after they were booked in,” Gentile said. MDC officials “know they are detoxing from alcohol. Nobody was watching them or they were not placed in the proper unit.”

A spokeswoman for Bernalillo County, Tia Bland, said the county’s attorneys “will review the lawsuits and determine the appropriate next steps.”

An earlier lawsuit was filed in July by family members of Samuel Bryant, 46, who died at MDC in September 2020 from toxic effects of methamphetamine and opiate withdrawal. The suit is pending in 2nd Judicial District Court.

All three lawsuits seek unspecified damages from Bernalillo County, MDC and Centurion Detention Healthcare Services, which ended its contract last year to provide medical services at MDC.

Alfred Park, an attorney for Centurion, did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

Medical staff checked on Nez four times between 7:42 a.m. and 9 a.m., but she received no additional medical attention. An inmate passing out lunch found Nez unresponsive in her cell at 11:40 a.m.

Centurion emergency medical technicians arrived at 11:45 a.m. and transferred her to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she died on Jan. 31, 2020.

An autopsy found that she died of “the toxic effects of methamphetamine,” multiple heart attacks and brain herniation, the suit said.

“MDC and its medical contractor, Centurion failed to medically intervene as Ms. Nez vomited countless times, suffered multiple heart attacks, suffered a brain hernia, and they ultimately stood by as she died an extremely slow and painful death,” the suit alleges.

Garcia was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and booked into MDC at 10:53 p.m. Oct. 3, 2020. He was placed in a cell early the next morning.

“Mr. Garcia battled alcoholism and indicated on his intake forms that he drank more than a pint of hard alcohol daily,” the suit said. “It is well understood in the medical community that alcohol withdrawal needs to be carefully monitored because it can be deadly.”

Garcia was not placed on “alcohol watch” and remained unmonitored over the next 12 to 15 hours, it said.

The suit alleges Garcia experienced severe pain, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath and trouble with mobility before a detention officer found him unresponsive on the floor at 3:12 p.m. Oct. 4, 2020.

Garcia did not respond to chest compressions and other treatments and was pronounced dead at 3:51 p.m.