About 80 people gathered at the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility Sunday afternoon for a protest and vigil over the Nov. 9 death of Carmela DeVargas in jail custody.
The 34-year-old woman’s father, Antonio DeVargas, said his daughter’s death from meningitis was preceded by medical neglect and mistreatment from jail staff, and he is calling for the resignation of Warden Derek Williams.
Antonio DeVargas said Sunday that he will file a tort claim against the jail through attorney Richard Rosenstock.
DeVargas also said he is considering attempting to empanel a grand jury to investigate the matter. A longtime activist, he recently successfully petitioned for a grand jury investigation of the North Central Solid Waste Authority.
Family and friends of Carmela DeVargas, including her young son whom Antonio cares for, released white balloons in Carmela’s memory and tied black balloons to trees in the jail parking lot.
“Let’s ask for justice for Carmela and the other souls that are in here under this black cloud,” Antonio DeVargas said, gesturing toward the entrance to the jail. “It’s torture and it’s unacceptable.”
As jail guards changed shifts, demonstrators held signs reading “Justice For Carmela,” “Delayed Medical Care Life Lost,” “Santa Fe Jail Blood on Your Hands,” and “Down con Warden Williams.”
Antonio DeVargas said in a November interview that when Carmela was finally taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Shelter after weeks of increasingly serious meningitis, his daughter was kept shackled to a bed with two guards constantly on watch, even though she was unable to speak, eat, or move at all below her neck.
He said Carmela called him about 10 days before she was taken to the hospital, saying she had a 105-degree fever and the jail staff would not do anything. He said she was given antibiotics by a jail doctor after the call, but called again a week-and-a-half later in excruciating pain, at which point he demanded to listening staff that they take her to the hospital. He said she was hospitalized the next day, but that two guards taunted her throughout her illness and he believes they waited until she was paralyzed to take her.
She was booked two months prior for a probation violation and had no history of violent criminal charges.
Vigil attendees lit candles and laid flowers in Carmela’s memory as they gathered.
Warden Williams declined to comment on issues pending potential litigation. County Communications Coordinator Carmelina Hart said in a statement that the County strives to keep the public and prisoners safe.
“Santa Fe County respects the right of free speech,” she wrote. “We provided a safe space for the vigil, so that members of the community could make their views known and Ms. DeVargas’s family could say goodbye to her.”
Hart said in November that jail policy is to perform a medical and mental health screening on all inmates. She said they have two nurses on call at all times and a doctor available during business hours. She said prisoners may request doctor’s appointments and access nurses twice a day.