Judge hears testimony on medical care at jail

Judge to rule by Jan. 5 on motion for independent medical oversight at county detention center

Steve Garrison
The San Juan County Adult Detention Center in Farmington is pictured in April 2015.

FARMINGTON — Four current and former inmates at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center testified last week at a federal court hearing in Albuquerque that the jail continues to provide negligent medical care, despite the deaths of three inmates at the facility earlier this year and multiple claims of medical negligence.

The Nov. 24 hearing was held to determine whether the judge should appoint a doctor to independently oversee medical services at the detention center.

The detention center and hospital have denied claims of medical negligence, and Ron Childress, the attorney representing San Juan County and its detention center, has argued the jail does not need such oversight

Marvin Veneno, a retired Jicarilla Apache police officer, told U.S. District Judge James Browning at the Nov. 24 hearing that he had a heart attack while being held at the county's detention center in October, according to a transcript of witness testimony from the hearing.

He claimed the detention center denied him his heart medication and insulin during the five days he was incarcerated, which caused the heart attack.

"I was begging the security guard," Veneno said, according to the transcript. "I was begging anybody that would come in. I would say, 'Sir, please, ma'am, I need my medication, please, I need something. I need someone to do something about it now.'"

Veneno admitted that he was able to speak to a nurse during each day of his incarceration, but he said they did nothing for him.

The judge also heard testimony from three other inmates, two of whom remain incarcerated, about allegedly negligent care they received in the past several months.

A decision on the request for independent medical oversight is expected by Jan. 5. 

The Tucker, Burns, Yoder & Hatfield Law Firm is requesting the medical oversight on behalf of more than two dozen current and former inmates who claim in a lawsuit initially filed in April that they received negligent medical care while incarcerated. The law firm is also representing the families of three inmates — William "Billy" Carter, Jesus Marquez and Sharon Jones — who died in the first three months of this year, allegedly because of medical negligence.

San Juan Regional Medical Center provides medical services at the detention center through a contract with the county and is also a defendant in the lawsuit. Ellen Park, an attorney for the hospital, said Friday her client is not a party to the plaintiff's motion for medical oversight. 

During the hearing, Veneno told the judge he was booked into the detention center on Oct. 5 on a warrant related to an unpaid traffic ticket. He testified he takes approximately a dozen different types of medication daily to treat a heart condition and he is an insulin-dependent diabetic. 

Veneno said he told guards and nurses "from day one" that he needed his medication and insulin, but his requests were ignored during the five days he was incarcerated.

Veneno testified he also did not eat during the five days he was incarcerated because the jail did not provide him a meal that complied with his dietary needs.

He said his arms turned black and blue and he felt weak, but the nurses and guards continued to ignore his pleas.

Childress said during cross-examination that a screening form for Veneno indicated he refused a meal for diabetics and requested a normal diet during booking. Veneno told Childress the form was wrong and he never refused a special diet.

Veneno said he was taken to see a nurse one day, but the nurse simply provided him a shot for tuberculosis.

He said he passed out the following morning after he was assigned to work in the jail's kitchen. When he awoke, he discovered he had suffered a severe heart attack.

"And through all of this, it still hurts me today, the pain and the suffering that I went through," Veneno testified, according to the transcript. "Nobody else, no other inmate should have to go through that. I was not a criminal, yet I was treated real, real bad."

The other three inmates' complaints were previously outlined in court filings related to the hearing.

Paul Matamoros, who remains incarcerated at the detention center, provided testimony regarding a bacterial infection on his genitals. Matamoros told the judge that, for approximately a week in August, the female nurses refused to do an inspection. He said a doctor eventually inspected the area and determined he needed to be sent to the emergency room.

Matamoros said he was prescribed several antibacterial creams, but by then, he already had suffered numbness and deformity. He said the infection removed so much skin, that it caused incontinence.

Childress stated in documents filed prior to the hearing that Matamoros had filed 17 medical request forms between July 1 and Aug. 31, for dietary issues, nail fungus complaints, headaches, back aches and other minor issues.

Matamoros admitted during cross-examination that he has filed medical requests almost daily, but said those were the result of legitimate concerns he had regarding his medical care.

Christopher Yarnell, who remains incarcerated, testified at the hearing that he was provided the incorrect medication on Sept. 26, which caused him to faint and smash his head on a sink. He said he told medical staff they gave him the wrong medication, but they ignored his complaint.

Dr. Jonathan Rudolf, a medical expert who testified at the hearing on behalf of the plaintiffs, told the judge the drug Yarnell was prescribed, Seroquel, was a strong tranquilizer used to treat insomnia and some psychiatric illnesses.

He said it was important for medical care providers to take patient complaints seriously. Failure to do so could result in death, according to Rudolf.

James Anthony Dominguez testified he had the toes on his right foot amputated while he was incarcerated at the detention center in March. He said he was released, but incarcerated again on July 21 due to a parole violation.

He told the judge his foot had not completely healed when he was incarcerated in July. He said he asked medical staff at the jail to change the bandages on his foot three times a day and apply an antibiotic ointment, as per his doctor's instructions, but medical staff failed to do so during the first five days he was incarcerated.

Dominguez testified his foot became reinfected, swelling to the point where he could not walk.

Dominguez said during cross-examination he was arrested in July for methamphetamine use.

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