A Third Person in Just over a Month Has Died in the Santa Fe County Jail

Daniella Cressman
"An inmate at the Santa Fe County jail took his own life Sunday in what records show is the third death at the facility since mid-August and the sixth in the past year." —Nathan Lederman

"Warden Derek Williams wrote in an email Monday the county had no comment on 'inmate deaths specifically' but offered condolences to the family of 43-year-old Marcos Montoya, who was found hanging in his jail cell around 5:20 p.m. Sunday." —Nathan Lederman

While Williams said the Santa Fe County jail has measures in place to prevent inmates from committing suicide, a report on Montoya indicates that he was not being closely monitored.

"The jail has measures in place to prevent inmates from dying by suicide at the facility, Williams added. 'Correctional officers are trained upon hire, and annually thereafter, in suicide prevention and crisis intervention,' he wrote. 'In addition, inmates undergo a self-harm evaluation upon booking.' Those believed to be at risk for self-harm are placed on a special watch. Though, a report on Montoya’s death indicates he was not being closely monitored for signs he might attempt to take his own life. Montoya’s apparent suicide comes less than three weeks after 28-year-old Cristian Marban-Tafoya’s death at the jail Sept. 3 and a little over a month after Andrea Deleon, 39, died Aug. 16. Inmates Brianna Romero, 20; Zachary Wolf, 45; and Niall Clinton, 67, also died at the jail since September 2021, according to heavily redacted incident reports provided by Santa Fe County." —Nathan Lederman

During that time period, Montoya's death is the only one that has been recorded as a suicide—the medical cause of death for the other inmates is unclear due to redactions in the reports. That being said, at least one of them was definitely due to an overdose.

"Montoya’s death is the only one in that time period reported as a suicide. The medical cause of death for four of the inmates is unclear due to redactions in the reports. At least one of the deaths was due to a drug overdose. Romero, accused in a September 2021 shooting spree, died a couple of weeks after her arrest from the effects of an overdose she suffered in the jail, Santa Fe police said last year. The cause of Wolf’s death, like the others, cannot be determined from the redacted report, but the document provides details about his condition when he was booked in the jail. It says he had several infections and open sores on both of his legs and his right arm when he was brought to the facility Feb. 1. A nurse initially refused his intake because of the wounds, which had not been treated in several days, and because he was 'intoxicated by a mind-altering substance,' according to the report. A couple of hours later, he 'was accepted as a new intake,' the report says. He was found dead in his housing pod Feb. 4. Montoya’s death is the only one in that time period reported as a suicide." —Nathan Lederman

There was no response as to whether six inmate deaths during one year are considered common in the Santa Fe County Jail.

"Neither Williams nor county spokeswoman Sara Smith responded to inquiries about whether six inmate deaths in a year is more than usual for the facility. Williams wrote in an email inmates at the facility are provided daily access to an electronic messaging system that connects them with behavioral health and medical personnel." —Nathan Lederman

Santa Fe County Sheriff wrote in a text that they are investigating the deaths and taking steps to improve the situation.

"Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza wrote in a text message Monday his office is investigating the jail deaths. 'We are also looking closely at the cases to try and determine if there are any preventative or proactive measures we can recommend to the corrections administration,' Mendoza wrote. 'The sheriff’s office does not oversee the jail. They are their own entity.'" —Nathan Lederman

Efforts were made to save Montoya's life to no avail. He did not appear to be suicidal minutes before he killed himself.

"A report from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Montoya’s death says a corrections officer at the jail conducted a cell check around 5 p.m. Sunday. Montoya responded to the officer, who noted nothing suspicious, the report says. About 20 minutes later, however, the corrections officer saw a piece of paper had been placed over the window in the door to Montoya’s cell, according to the report. The guard tried to speak with Montoya but didn’t get a response and alerted superiors at the jail. The guard and his superiors discovered the lunch tray door to Montoya’s cell also was covered with paper, the report says. A sergeant was able to move the paper aside with a flashlight and saw Montoya hanging from a rope secured to a metal air vent. The jail staffers cut the rope with a safety knife, placed Montoya on the ground and pulled him into the main lobby of the jail pod, the report says, but efforts to save him were unsuccessful. Lifesaving measures were halted at about 5:59 p.m, according to the report. The state Office of the medical Investigator listed his time of death as 8:50 p.m. The sheriff’s office found Montoya had created the rope by braiding together several draw strings from sweatpants. Deputies believe he then hung himself while standing on a toilet or a stack of books, the report says. Deputies did not find a suicide note in Montoya’s cell, the report says, and corrections staff said they were not aware of Montoya ever being placed on suicide watch." —Nathan Lederman

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Canadian-American author writing about local politics, personal finance, & dining in Albuquerque.

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