Woman Who Died in Custody Told Father ‘They Killed Me’

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county NCSWA first hearing on grand jury investigation petition DeVargas Orie (copy)

“She called for help and they wouldn’t help her,” Antonio Devargas said. “They mocked her, laughed at her, they treated her less than human.”

Carmela DeVargas, of Servilleta, died Nov. 9 in the custody of the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility, and her father says her death was preceded by mistreatment and medical neglect from jail staff.

Antonio DeVargas said when she 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.

Carmela DeVargas, 34, was booked in September for violating her probation in a tampering with evidence case, and had no history of violent criminal charges.

Antonio DeVargas said his daughter 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 called for help and they wouldn’t help her,” he said. “They mocked her, laughed at her, they treated her less than human.”

He said when she was eventually taken to an intensive care unit, doctors were upset she had not been transferred immediately.

He said that when Carmela was taken off life support after communicating her wishes through blinks, she was with family.

“She told us all goodbye,” he said. “That’s a consolation, that everyone had to say goodbye.”

Antonio DeVargas plans a protest at the jail at a yet-undetermined date and demanded that Warden Derek Williams and the two guards he says mocked his daughter resign or be terminated.

“I consider that the guards and that warden are guilty of negligent homicide,” he said. “They’re murderers. They killed her. She told me. She said, ‘Daddy, they killed me.’”

Carmela’s obituary stated she had a daughter and a son. Antonio DeVargas said he adopted his grandson several years ago. He said there is much to put in order before considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

“She was not violent, she didn’t hurt nobody, she was only hurting herself,” he said. “We loved to go camping and fishing and hunting and hiking. She was just a life loving person and we’re going to miss her dearly.”

County Communications Coordinator Carmelina Hart said she could not speak about the health of individual inmates, but 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.

Hart said inmates may request doctor’s appointments and access nurses twice a day, and medical staff decides if a patient needs hospitalization.

She said the County has a compliance manager who reviews its policies, but she was unaware if an active review was currently being performed.

Antonio DeVargas is no stranger to fights with government entities. He recently championed an ongoing push for a grand jury investigation into the North Central Solid Waste Authority, and has been involved with activism around forests and land grant issues in Northern New Mexico since the 1960s.

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