Judge denies request for oversight at the jail

Steve Garrison
A records supervisor enters the medical facility at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center in Farmington earlier this month. The detention center and it's medical care provider are facing a lawsuit about the quality of care provided to inmates.

FARMINGTON — A federal judge has denied a request to appoint a doctor to provide independent medical oversight at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

U.S. District Court Judge James Browning stated in an 109-page opinion filed Friday in federal court that the plaintiffs — current and former inmates who claim to have received negligent medical care while incarcerated at the county jail — were obligated to show that there was a "substantial likelihood" that their claims of constitutional violations and negligence would succeed at trial.

Browning, whose court is in the federal courthouse in Albuquerque, stated the plaintiffs failed to meet that burden of proof.

"In the end, the plaintiffs have not produced sufficient evidence that the defendants acted deliberately indifferent to their medical needs," Browning stated.

Christian Hatfield, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday that the detention center a

nd its medical providers, San Juan Regional Medical Center and Presbyterian Medical Services, were slow to provide critical evidence in time for it to be heard at a Nov. 24 court hearing on the motion requesting court-appointed medical oversight.

Hatfield said new amended complaints were filed Friday on behalf of three inmates — Jesus Marquez, William "Billy" Carter and Sharon Jones — who died in the first three months of 2015 while incarcerated at the jail. He said those complaints contain new evidence that bolstered the plaintiffs' claims of negligence by the jail's medical staff.

Laura Werbner, a spokeswoman for San Juan Regional Medical Center, said the hospital does not comment on any pending litigation involving its patients or employees due to ethical and legal concerns.

Ron Childress, an attorney for the county and its detention center, did not respond to a request for comment.

Hatfield said his law firm has brought in a Denver law firm — Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman — to assist with the case.

Holland, Holland Edwards & Grossman recently won a $10 million judgment on behalf of a 46-year-old man who was denied immediate medical assistance after he suffered a stroke at the Jefferson County Detention Facility in Golden, Colo., according to court records.

The man suffered permanent disability as a result of the delay in medical care, records state.

The contracted medical provider at the Jefferson County Detention Facility was Correctional Healthcare Companies, which is also the former medical provider for the San Juan County Adult Detention Center.

John Holland said Tuesday his law firm decided to join the San Juan County case because "we believe in the Constitution."

"We think when you go to jail, you shouldn't get a death sentence," Holland said. "You aren't supposed to be deprived of your life."

The plaintiffs filed the motion requesting independent medical oversight on Sept. 28 as part of a larger lawsuit filed in April against the jail and its medical providers.

The plaintiffs, more than two dozen current and former inmates at the jail, claim in the lawsuit to have received negligent medical care while incarcerated, which has caused pain, emotional distress, illness, disfigurement, and death.

In order to obtain injunctive relief, plaintiffs were required to show the jail and its medical providers, San Juan Regional Medical Center and Presbyterian Medical Services, acted with "deliberate indifference" to inmates' medical needs, according to Browning's order.

Browning stated that he was "concerned" about the facts surrounding the incarceration of Marvin Veneno, a retired Jicarilla Apache police officer who testified at the Nov. 24 court hearing on the plaintiffs' motion.

Veneno said at the hearing that he had a heart attack while being held at the detention center in October for an unpaid ticket. He said guards and medical staff at the jail denied him his heart medication and insulin during the five days he was incarcerated, which caused the attack.

Browning said, based on the evidence presented at the hearing, that he believed jail guards and medical staff showed deliberate indifference to Veneno's medical needs, but Veneno was neither a plaintiff in the lawsuit, nor a current inmate.

Thus, Veneno did not have legal standing to request injunctive relief in the form of independent medical oversight at the jail.

Browning stated the other two men who testified at the hearing either failed to establish legal standing or failed to prove that the jail and its medical staff were deliberately indifferent to their medical needs.

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