Jail and county officials comment after sixth MDC inmate death this year

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – After the announcement of the death of another inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center, jail and county officials made comments in a meeting Wednesday. 

An MDC spokesperson said an inmate died Wednesday. She was a 42-year-old woman who “suffered a medical episode while detoxing” after workers tried to save her. They had booked her just over 26 hours earlier, the spokesperson said. They have not named her.

The woman’s death is the third MDC inmate death this month and the sixth this year. 

At a Bernalillo County Detention Facility Advisory Board meeting Wednesday afternoon, there was a discussion of the recent deaths. 

“I do want to ask about, kind of, the elephant in the room, of sorts. It seems that this month has been a rough month for the jail,” advisory board member Gary Coffin said.

“As far as the deaths?” MDC Chief Jason Jones asked in response.

After Coffin confirmed, Jones said, “As you stated, they’re all under investigation by law enforcement, so there’s not a lot that I can tell you. The one from today, she was fine one minute. She wasn’t fine the next minute. Just that quick.”

KOB 4 has confirmed through family members and jail officials that the three inmates that have died this month all had drug issues. When advisory board members asked the correctional officer union president why there have been so many deaths, that was the focus of his response.

“What do I think is going on? We have a lot of drugs in the facility. We need to get a handle on it,” Joseph Trujeque said.

He said the jail should change policy so that correctional officers strip search each inmate when they book them.

A comment from a Bernalillo County official focused on the staff. 

“Our hearts go out to the families, and of course the inmates, but it’s really hard for staff,” County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said. “I’m just asking to please consider our staff and their families because it affects everyone, and it is a very sad day, and it has been really sad. There are just things that are out of our control that happen before they even get there.” 

An advisory board member said staff are doing a good job of handling difficult circumstances. 

“The jail is doing very well, and I think the personnel there are doing very well,” Thomas Ruiz said. 

The board chair said everyone in the room during the meeting is focused on running the jail as safely as possible.

“I think that’s an important thing, that the general public knows that it has our attention. It has had our attention, and we’ll continue to work on it,” Michael Brasher said. 

MDC officials declined KOB 4’s request for an interview Wednesday. 

A jail spokesperson gave KOB 4 an update on the low staffing levels at MDC. 

The jail is at 55% staffing. There are 224 correctional officers, and 46 current cadets are set to start in 4 to 6 weeks. 

Additionally, UNMH is set to take over the medical staffing at MDC July 26.