Husband sues San Juan Adult Detention Center over wife's death during incarceration

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The husband of a Shiprock woman who died while incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center in 2012 has filed a lawsuit alleging the jail did not provide adequate care to his wife, who had a history of health problems.

Johnnie Burton said in an interview that he watched his wife, Matilda Burton, 44, slowly die during the two and a half weeks she was incarcerated at the jail.

"They found her in the cell unresponsive," he said. "By the time I visited, she told me that she fell a couple times. She needed to get an infusion, because her body was not getting enough blood, and it got to the point where she was getting infusions every two weeks."

Matilda Burton was arrested Sept. 7, 2012, on a bench warrant for failure to appear in court and held on a $1,500 cash-only bond. She was facing charges at the time that included aggravated drunken driving — her second offense — and speeding, according to court records.

She died shortly after midnight on Sept. 23, 2012, according to a medical report from San Juan Regional Medical Center. She was transported to the hospital after suffering a severe heart attack at the jail.

A history of health conditions, including cirrhosis of the liver, hypothyroidism and diabetes, likely contributed to her death, the medical report states.

Johnnie Burton said in the interview that, despite being his wife's emergency contact, the jail never called him about the heart attack. He also said his wife should not have been incarcerated, given her health problems.

Johnnie Burton filed his lawsuit in district court on Sept. 26. He names as defendants San Juan County, the detention center, several detention center employees and Correctional Healthcare Companies. On Oct. 2, the lawsuit was moved to federal court.

Tom Havel, administrator at the detention center, referred questions about the lawsuit to Albuquerque attorney Amy Glasser.

Glasser could not be reached for comment, but the county, detention center and its employees denied all allegations made by Johnnie Burton in a response to his complaint filed on Oct. 7.

Johnnie Burton claims in the lawsuit that his wife was held without bail at the detention center and should not have been detained without an appropriate medical plan, according to the civil complaint.

He said the jail denied his requests to discuss his wife's medical needs and would not allow him to call or visit his wife, the complaint states.

He said that the jail misused its authority and denied Matilda Burton adequate medical care and medication, the complaint states.

Johnnie Burton is seeking unspecified damages on behalf of his wife for multiple constitutional violations, negligence, personal injury and wrongful death.

Johnnie Burton is being represented by attorney Jennifer Yoder of Tucker, Burns, Yoder and Hatfield, a Farmington-based law firm. Yoder could not be reached for comment.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.