Former inmate claims county jail was negligent

Steve Garrison
San Juan County Adult Detention Center is pictured on Wednesday in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A former San Juan County Adult Detention Center inmate has filed a lawsuit against the jail and its former health care provider, Correctional Healthcare Companies, claiming he was denied medication and access to a public defender while incarcerated in late 2013. 

Matthew Herrera, 43, claims in the complaint filed Dec. 21 that he was arrested during a routine traffic stop on Nov. 30, 2013, due to an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court.

At the time of his arrest, Herrera said he was taking several prescribed medications to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and seizures, but he said medical staff at the jail denied him access to those medications for nearly five days during his incarceration, according to the complaint.

He states that staff began to dispense his medication on Dec. 4, but did not prescribe his medication according to his doctor's orders, which caused him to become disoriented and anxious, the complaint states.

He said he was incarcerated for three weeks before he was assigned a public defender, who was able to have Herrera released pending a competency evaluation, according to the complaint.

San Juan County Adult Detention Center is pictured on Wednesday in Farmington.

Herrera was eventually found incompetent to stand trial, but lost his job as a security officer due to the length of the detention, according to the complaint.

Herrera claims the defendants, which include the detention center, the San Juan County Board of Commissioners, jail administrator Tom Havel and Correctional Healthcare Companies, were negligent.

He is seeking unspecified damages.

Deputy County Attorney Joe Sawyer said Thursday in an email the county has not yet been served notice that the lawsuit has been filed and therefore could not comment on the Herrera's allegations.

Alfred Park is representing Correctional Healthcare Companies in ongoing litigation brought by more than two dozen current and former inmates who claim to have received negligent medical care while incarcerated at the county jail.

Park did not respond to a request by deadline on Friday seeking comment on Herrera's lawsuit.

Cammie Nichols of the Rothstein Law Firm in Albuquerque is representing Herrera.

She said in an email Thursday the growing number of medical negligence lawsuits filed against the jail suggests Herrera's experience was not an isolated one.

Nichols said she took on the case after being contacted by Herrera's social worker, "who knew his story and was trying to find someone to help him."

"Fortunately, he did not suffer from any permanent physical injury due to the lack of medical care in the jail, but he did suffer extreme anxiety from the lack of treatment, as well as physical suffering," Nichols said. "We are glad he was not permanently physically damaged."

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.