4 Investigates: Family files lawsuit in death of inmate at MDC

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ALBUQUERQUE,N.M. – A new lawsuit accuses corrections officers at the Metro Detention Center of ignoring an inmate’s pleas for help as his mental health went downhill and he eventually took his own life.

The suit claims one corrections officer was asleep on the job and another officer somehow missed what should have been in full view. This happened during a string of six deaths in just three months.

"He was screaming. He was begging for help,” said Civil Rights Attorney Laura Schauer Ives.

Ronny Pacheco’s family attorney said it should have been clear he was in trouble.

In November 2020, Albuquerque police arrested the 34-year-old on a burglary charge. He went to jail, was booked into restricted housing, with little to no interaction with other inmates. That’s been pandemic policy for new inmates at MDC, and while it’s worked fairly well to stop the spread of COVID – being alone has risks.

"What we know about the psychology of isolation is that anybody can deteriorate, and especially somebody with underlying mental health issues,” said Ives

Ives, who’s suing Bernalillo County on behalf of the family, said that’s what happened to Pacheco over the course of three days at MDC.

"Deterioration in segregation can be very, very rapid. And hence the need to check on people who are isolated,” said Ives.

In fact, that’s jail policy, random checks during every half hour. Cells aren’t built to give inmates much privacy, with three big windows on each.

The suit said the jail video, not provided to KOB 4, shows Pacheco tying a sheet to his top bunk and hanging himself at 6:09 p.m. that evening. One corrections officer who could have seen Pacheco was apparently asleep.

Three different times over the next hour and 17 minutes, the lawsuit said, another officer walked by and looked into Pacheco’s cell.

"Somehow (the guard) failed to notice that he was hanging. Or noticed that and ignored it. Either way, it’s emblematic of a very, very serious issue at MDC,” said Ives.

Bernalillo County officials have said before that one inmate death is too many. They did not comment for this story.