San Juan County calls woman's jailhouse death unavoidable, denies negligence

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Attorneys representing San Juan County and its employees argued in federal court earlier this month that a woman's death in 2012 at the county jail was "unavoidable and imminent" and not the result of negligence by the jail staff.

Defendants' attorneys argued in a joint status report filed on Jan. 7 that the inmate, Matilda Burton, suffered from end-stage liver failure and hypertensive heart disease, conditions that made her death on Sept. 23, 2012, impossible to prevent.

An autopsy report further showed that Burton, 44, had cocaine in her system at the time of her death, despite the fact she had been incarcerated for more than two weeks at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center up until that point, the report states.

Doctors determined the cocaine likely contributed to her death by cardiac arrest, according to the report.

Matilda Burton's husband, Johnnie Burton, filed a lawsuit on Sept. 26 alleging that the jail and its health care provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies, were negligent in caring for his wife while she was incarcerated.

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 for aggravated drunken driving — her second offense — and speeding, according to court records.

Johnnie Burton alleges in his lawsuit that the jail was ill equipped to handle his wife's serious medical conditions, and she should not have been incarcerated.

He is suing the county, the detention center, several detention center employees and Correctional Healthcare Companies.

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

Albuquerque attorney Amy Glasser is representing the county and detention center in the lawsuit. She could not be reached for comment.

Albuquerque attorney Larry Marcus is representing Correctional Healthcare Companies. He declined to 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.