County, hospital settle inmate death lawsuit

Steve Garrison
Jesus Marquez

FARMINGTON — The parties in a lawsuit brought on behalf of Jesus Marquez, a 34-year-old inmate who died of pneumonia last spring while incarcerated at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, have reached a settlement agreement.

San Juan County Attorney Doug Echols said Monday the county's insurer will pay $150,000 to settle claims that Marquez died on March 3, 2015, as a result of negligent medical care he received at the county jail.

Echols said it was the decision of the county's insurance provider, Travelers Insurance, to settle the lawsuit.

San Juan Regional Medical Center, which provides medical care at the detention center under a $2.15 million contract, also reached a settlement with Marquez's mother, Olga Salazar.

Echols said he did not know the details of the hospital's settlement.

Hospital spokeswoman Laura Werbner confirmed the parties reached an agreement, but she said "the terms are confidential" when asked for details.

Christian Hatfield, an attorney for Salazar, said he could not say more than that the claims were settled. He said conferences will be held in July to discuss potential settlement agreements in lawsuits brought on behalf of William "Billy" Carter and Sharon Jones, two other inmates who died at the detention center in the spring of 2015. All died within a space of about three months.

The parties are scheduled to report the results of those discussions to a federal judge on Aug. 1, according to court records.

More than two dozen other current and former inmates claim they received negligent medical care while incarcerated at the detention center. Those claims are on hold pending mediation in the wrongful death lawsuits, court records state.

Salazar claimed in the lawsuit that medical staff at the jail ignored guards' repeated requests that her son be transported on March 3, 2015, to San Juan Regional Medical Center for emergency treatment.

A detective from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office found in an investigation that Marquez filed three forms complaining of severe chest pain and a bad cough the day before his death.

Marquez first told guards he had trouble breathing at 4 a.m. on March 3, 2015, but it was not until eight hours later that he was transported to the hospital, according to a police report.

Nurses at the jail medically cleared Marquez three times during that period, the report states, and jail guards were eventually forced to call for an emergency transport without the assistance of the medical staff.

Marquez flat-lined while enroute to the hospital and died later that afternoon, according to the report.

A medical investigator later determined Marquez died of pneumonia.

The sheriff's office investigations into the deaths of Jones and Carter also turned up evidence that nurses may have ignored their medical requests or provided them inconsistent medical care.

Echols said the settlement agreement in Marquez's death will need to be approved by the judge. He said a guardian will also need to be appointed to represent Marquez's son, who is a juvenile and will be entitled to a portion of the settlement.

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