The families of two people who died just four days apart after falling ill in the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility are pushing for a grand jury investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the County government.
Both Antonio DeVargas and Susie Schmitt claim the deaths of their adult children, Carmela DeVargas and Rex Corcoran, Jr., respectively, were avoidable and negligent. Each entered the jail for nonviolent offenses and then died of illnesses while hospitalized—their parents say their medical treatment was too little, too late.
DeVargas and Schmitt rallied at the Roundhouse the morning of Feb. 9 with about 50 others to kick off a petition campaign—the state constitution allows for citizens to empanel a grand jury by gathering the signatures of either 200 registered voters in the County or 2 percent of the County’s registered voters, whichever is higher. In Santa Fe County, the pair will need about 2,000 signatures to force the investigation.
DeVargas said at the rally that he unsuccessfully attempted to have police investigate the alleged negligence.
“We only hear about the dead ones, but there are a whole bunch of people getting tortured—that place is a torture chamber,” he said. “When the law enforcement of the state won’t do their jobs, it’s time for citizens to take the law into their own hands. I’m not talking about violence. All it takes is a petition.”
Antonio DeVargas said Carmela DeVargas was booked for a probation violation and neglected and mocked for weeks as her meningitis progressively worsened. He said jail officials waited until she was paralyzed to take her to a hospital—where she was kept shackled to a bed even though she was physically unable to move. He said that when Carmela was taken off life support Nov. 9 after communicating her wishes through blinks, she was with family.
Court records show Corcoran was booked into jail Nov. 5 after a compliance hearing in relation to a DWI case and set to be released a week later. Instead, he was hospitalized and died Nov. 13. Shmitt said she struggled to get information about her son’s well being or whereabouts.
“By the time I got (to the hospital), he was already in an induced coma where I couldn’t hold him, talk to him, tell him I loved him,” she said. “I had to decide to bring him into this world and then to let him go.”
Though the Rio Arriba man’s own signature won’t count toward his petition, Antonio DeVargas successfully empaneled a grand jury to investigate the North Central Solid Waste Authority last year over alleged financial misconduct.
In addition to the call for investigation, DeVargas has urged Santa Fe County officials to remove the jail warden, the facility’s chief doctor and the guards he says mocked his daughter as she suffered.
Attorney Richard Rosenstock said this push would require a different approach.
“It’s not something courts can do, it’s a political issue,” he said. “The Santa Fe County Commission should be interested.”
County Communications Coordinator Carmelina Hart wrote in a statement, “The Families are exercising their rights, and now it will be up to the District Attorney’s Office.”