Mother sues jail, claiming son died from negligent medical care

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The mother of Jesus Marquez filed a lawsuit Friday on her 34-year-old son's behalf claiming his March 3 death at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center was caused by negligent medical care.

The civil complaint describes Marquez's death in graphic detail and is based on accounts provided by jail guards who worked on March 3, according to attorney Greg Tucker of the Farmington law firm Tucker, Burns, Yoder & Hatfield.

Tucker filed the lawsuit on behalf of Marquez's mother, Olga Salazar, and said it should have been apparent to medical staff that Marquez was dying on March 3.

According to the civil complaint, the jail guards themselves requested repeatedly that the medical staff at the San Juan Regional Medical Center check on Marquez. However, the complaint alleges that the inspection was needlessly delayed and, when a nurse finally did check on his condition, she did not take his concerns seriously.

"People don't think about it, but imagine if this was your son," Tucker said. "Your son is arrested for committing a crime, and he has a medical condition. There is nothing you can do. You can't give him the attention he needs, because he is in jail. It was a death sentence."

The lawsuit names as defendants the detention center, the county, the hospital, jail administrator Tom Havel, jail medical directors Dr. Eric Ketcham and his wife Cindy Ketcham, and the nurse who treated Marquez on the day of his death.

Deputy County Attorney Doug Echols said the county was served Thursday, and its insurer was made aware of the lawsuit. He said the insurer would provide legal representation on behalf of the county and the detention center in the case.

Haroon Ahmad, a spokesman for the hospital, said he could not discuss pending litigation, but the hospital believes it has "meritorious defenses and will vigorously defend this litigation."

The nurse is identified as a defendant in the lawsuit only as "Katie." Tucker said the jail and hospital would not provide her name. In the complaint, a surname is provided for "Katie," but Tucker said he was uncertain if it was correct.

Ahmad would not say whether the nurse is still employed by the San Juan Regional Medical Center.

As reported by The Daily Times on April 29, Marquez is one of three inmates to die in the first three months of 2015 — an unusually high number of deaths for the facility, which has averaged one death annually in recent years.

Sharon Jones, 58, was found dead at the jail the morning of Jan. 5. As reported by The Daily Times on May 10, a woman incarcerated with Jones said she and other inmates repeatedly requested that Jones be inspected by a nurse, but their requests were ignored.

Attorney Christian Hatfield, also of the Tucker, Burns, Yoder and Hatfield law firm, said last week his firm has been retained by Jones' family, and a lawsuit is pending.

William "Billy" Carter, 57, died at the facility on Feb. 13, according to the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

The law firm also filed a lawsuit April 17 on behalf of 18 current and former inmates who claim they were denied basic medical care while incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

Many of the inmates claim in the lawsuit that requests for medical attention were ignored by the medical staff. One inmate claims that it was not until his mother spoke to a jail sergeant that his complaint of abdominal pain was taken seriously.

That inmate, Aaron Eaton, was eventually diagnosed at the hospital as suffering from an acute appendix crisis and underwent immediate surgery for the condition.

According to court records, Marquez was arrested June 11 and incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on allegations he attacked an ex-girlfriend on June 3 and June 7.. He was charged in Aztec Magistrate Court June 9 with two counts of aggravated battery against a household member with a deadly weapon and one count of false imprisonment, along with several lesser offenses, records state.

The 34-year-old man had an extensive criminal history dating back to when he was 19 years old. Many of the offenses he was charged with were violent ones, including a September 2001 conviction for involuntary manslaughter.

According to the civil complaint, Marquez's mother had contacted the jail for several months after his incarceration, complaining that the medical staff refused to properly treat Marquez's diabetes and that his condition was worsening, resulting in his placement in the medical ward.

On March 2, Marquez informed a jail guard that he was suffering from severe chest pains. The medical staff responded by taking his vital signs and giving him ibuprofen, the complaint states. The medical staff was again called to treat Marquez later that night, the complaint states.

On the morning of March 3, a guard noticed that Marquez was lying awkwardly, and his skin was ash colored.

The officer asked her fellow officers if he had been checked on, and she was told that the medical staff had ignored their requests that Marquez be seen, the complaint states.

Guards attempted to transport Marquez to the jail for a court appearance, the complaint states, but decided against it due to his condition.

The guards demanded several more times that the medical staff check on Marquez, but were again rebuffed, the complaint states.

Finally, a nurse responded, but she checked Marquez's heart rate incorrectly and, when shown Marquez's blood pressure reading, replied: "That can't be, take it again," according to the complaint.

Marquez told the nurse he could not breathe, the complaint states, which she dismissed.

"You can breathe because you are talking to me," she allegedly said.

The nurse eventually came to the conclusion that Marquez was "faking it," the complaint states.

The guards grew increasingly irate and told the nurse that Marquez was dying and needed to be taken to the hospital, the complaint states. By that point, blood was dripping out of Marquez's mouth, the complaint states.

A sergeant eventually called an ambulance himself, the complaint states.

The nurse allegedly argued with the guards when she was told to stay at the scene with Marquez, saying, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know I needed to be present during a non-emergency transport," according to the complaint.

She allegedly brushed off the claim that he was bleeding from the mouth by saying he likely bit his tongue.

An ambulance eventually arrived, and Marquez was transported. His heart stopped in the ambulance, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital, the complaint states.

The Daily Times requested the autopsy and toxicology report for Marquez from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator on April 7. The office still has not provided the documents.

Tucker said he believes the nurse in this case was not simply negligent, but intentionally provided inadequate treatment because Marquez was an inmate.

"They have to provide medical services, regardless of what he is accused of, or his race, or his tattoos," Tucker said. "This one shocked our senses, because they refused to provide services while this guy is begging, and they left him to die."

Marquez's mother claims in the lawsuit that the defendants violated her son's constitutional rights and his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

She seeks not only monetary damages, but also court-ordered changes in the detention center's policies, procedures, supervision, training and contractual payments for medical services.

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.