Petition for Grand Jury in Wrongful Deaths Submitted to Santa Fe County

By KAY MATTHEWS

Antonio “Ike” DeVargas and Susie Schmitt are determined that their children, Carmela DeVargas and Rex Corcoran, Jr., who died due to the negligence of the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Facility, will not be forgotten. On March 25 they submitted a petition of over 3000 signatures to the Santa Fe County Manager calling for the First Judicial District Court to impanel a grand jury “to investigate acts of malfeasance, misfeasance, and any other illegal act committed by any individuals associated with or employed by the Santa Fe County Adult Detention Facility and the County of Santa Fe.”

As La Jicarita has previously reported, Carmela and Rex died within days of each other in November of 2019 at Christus St. Vincent Hospital after failing to receive adequate medical care at the Detention Facility where they were both being held for alleged parole violations. Carmela died because of the jail’s failure to treat her for Opioid Use Disorder that resulted in infections that rendered her quadriplegic and on life support (secondary sepsis and MRSA infections). Rex died of organ failure due to sepsis.

Antonio DeVargas, representing the estate of Carmela DeVargas, just a month ago also filed a lawsuit against Santa Fe County and the Detention Facility employees he claims are responsible for her death: Santa Fe Public Safety Director Pablo Sedillo; Santa Fe County Detention Center Warden Derek Williams; Medical Director Dr. Melequides Olivares; and Correctional Officers Lieutenant Rojas and Caption Rios.

After submitting a copy of the petition to the county manger, DeVargas requested to speak during the public comment period at the Santa Fe County Commission meeting on March 30 to make sure the commissioners were aware of the petition. He was allotted three minutes. He told the commissioners that his daughter Carmela was twice a victim: first, of the doctors and big pharma that created the opioid epidemic in northern New Mexico that has taken so many lives and destroyed so many families; and second, of the abuse and negligence of the prison system. On November 8, the day before Carmela died at the hospital, one of the officers who had abused her at the Detention Facility was arrested at the jail for possession of methamphetamine. “There are as many drugs in the jail as there are in the street,” DeVargas told the commissioners.

He added, “I understand the jail is not a five star hotel, that they don’t provide room service. What I don’t understand is the cruelty exhibited there. My daughter asked for help for two weeks before she ended up in the hospital. There’s a difference between being firm with inmates and being cruel. I’m asking you to open up your hearts to these kids and treat them as human beings.”

In response to DeVargas, County Commission Chair Henry Roybal expressed condolences over the loss of his daughter. County Manager Katherine Miller told DeVargas that the Board of County Commissioners doesn’t play a role in a grand jury petition, which is the purview of district court. DeVargas responded that he obviously knew that—the language on the petition directly calls on the First Judicial District Court—but pointed out that it is Santa Fe County that is in charge of the Detention Facility and ultimately responsible for what occurs there.

“I’m asking you as commissioners to sign this petition to show that you take these allegations seriously,” he said, and added that if the pandemic hadn’t cut short their petition drive they would have had many more signatures from people all over the state and the world who believe the criminal justice system desperately needs oversight and accountability. DeVargas and Schmitt will continue to circulate the petition until they acquire enough valid signatures to submit to the court (signatories must be registered voters in Santa Fe County).

When enough signatures have been validated and the petition is submitted to the First District Court, under the New Mexico State Constitution a grand jury “shall” be impaneled to investigate any malfeasance at the Adult Detention Center at the direction of the district attorney.

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