Rio Arriba County jail sued over inmate’s fatal overdose

Nov. 7—The family of a man who died of a drug overdose last year in the Rio Arriba County jail in Tierra Amarilla has filed a wrongful death complaint against the county, alleging he would still be alive if not for the negligence of county officials and medical care providers.

Manuel Vicente Gutierrez, 41, was found dead in his cell around 9 a.m. March 27, 2022, three days after he was booked on what court documents say was his fourth DWI charge.

According to his family’s lawsuit, one or more bottles of pills were found in his cell, even though he hadn’t been prescribed any medications in the jail and had no cellmate for more than 24 hours before his death.

An autopsy showed Gutierrez had methamphetamines and fentanyl in his system, the lawsuit says, and his cause of death was determined to be accidental overdose exacerbated by heart disease.

The complaint suggests Gutierrez obtained the deadly drugs inside the jail.

“There is absolutely no place for narcotics in jail,” attorney Marc Edwards, who represents Gutierrez’s two daughters in the case, said in an interview.

“People are put in jail because of drug habits, and then they can get drugs while they are in there. It’s insane,” Edwards added.

The same week Gutierrez died, another inmate had overdosed at the jail after taking at least one fentanyl pill, according to the lawsuit.

“[The county] breached their duty of care … in the detection and interdiction of contraband coming into [the jail],” the lawsuit states.

It also names RoadRunner Health Services as a defendant. The company, which provides medical services to jail inmates, provided evaluation, screening and treatment of Gutierrez that “appear to be grossly incomplete and lack conciseness,” the family alleges in the complaint.

The company failed to take Gutierrez’s vitals daily despite noting at his initial screening he had high blood pressure that required daily monitoring, the lawsuit states.

Gutierrez was left alone in his cell with no supervision or treatment despite hospital records documenting he had told officials he drank “five fifths a day” and was a cocaine and methamphetamine user, according to the complaint.

The Rio Grande Sun reported in February at least eight inmates have died in the jail in Tierra Amarilla since October 2020, including multiple deaths involving drugs.

Jail Administrator Jose Luis Gallegos did not respond to an email and phone call Tuesday seeking an update on the county’s progress toward installing a full body scanner or hiring additional staff — measures officials have said they planned to take to curb the flow of contraband into the facility.

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