Father of late inmate attributes death to negligence

Carmela DeVargas. Courtesy photo

When Carmela DeVargas was booked into the Santa Fe County jail, she had a positive outlook on her future.

She called her father, Antonio DeVargas, to tell him she was happy to be in jail and that she was looking forward to doing whatever she had to do to do well in life.

“I said, ‘OK, baby. That’s what you got to do,’ ” he said.

Carmela DeVargas’ time was cut short when she died Saturday of meningitis, less than two months after being booked into the jail on a probation violation. Her father said the staff failed to provide her with adequate medical care and two guards routinely laughed and mocked her as her health deteriorated.

About two weeks after she arrived at the jail on Sept. 19, Antonio DeVargas said his daughter called him complaining of a severe fever. He tried to call the District Attorney’s Office to demand she receive medical treatment, but he was unable to reach anyone.

Eventually, he said, his daughter received antibiotics and felt better for a short time before calling him again to say she felt worse than ever.

“She said, ‘Dad, I have the biggest headache that I’ve ever had in my whole life and they are laughing at me,’ ” he said.

Antonio DeVargas said he does not know the date his daughter was transferred from the jail to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center. But when he went to visit her, she was shackled to her bed.

“She was paralyzed from the neck down, she was on life support and they had two guards 24/7,” he said.

Carmela DeVargas’ obituary states she lived in Servilleta and previously attended the culinary arts program at Santa Fe Community College.

She landed in jail after District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer on Sept. 13 issued a bench warrant alleging DeVargas had failed to abide by the conditions of her probation. The judge ordered that she be held without bond.

Henry Varela, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email that the office was notified that Carmela DeVargas was on life support on Oct. 28 and approved her release order.

“On [Nov. 8] we were notified that the Defendant was not likely going to survive and we dismissed the probation violation,” he wrote.

A Santa Fe County grand jury charged Carmela DeVargas in April 2017 with tampering with evidence and conspiracy. She accepted a plea deal in September 2017, pleaded guilty to the two charges and was sentenced to 4½ years of supervised probation.

While Santa Fe County spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said she could not share medical information about specific inmates, she did say every person booked into the jail goes through a mandatory physical and mental examination.

At that time, they are asked to self-disclose any medical issues, she said. Two nurses are at the jail at all times and a doctor is present during the day. Medical staff can refuse to accept an inmate into the facility if they decide the person needs a higher level of care than what the jail can offer.

“Santa Fe County takes the treatment of our residents very seriously,” she said. “We strive to provide the necessary treatment and medical treatment for each of our residents.”

Antonio DeVargas said problems with jail staff continued during his daughter’s hospital stay. He said he contacted the hospital administrator and the jail warden “because they were trying to regulate the time [he] could see her.”

“My baby girl gave me two of the names [of the guards] that mocked her and laughed at her and didn’t do anything, and I am going to demand that those bastards are immediately terminated and that the warden resigns or get fired,” the father said.

Carmela DeVargas’ death comes two months after a 17-year-old boy died in custody at Santa Fe’s juvenile detention facility.

Nathaniel Valenzuela was found dead Sept. 6 inside the facility, according to dispatch logs. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Ríos has said the teen’s death was suspected to have been a suicide. He was on a federal hold at the facility by the U.S. Marshals Service.

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(2) comments

Elaine Ortega

This is ridiculous! Inmates should be treated with medical care. Its sad to know these guards were just laughing when in fact this young lady was very sick & dying. This is uncalled For! The warren should oversee issues such as these; perhaps fire people with negligence against inmates. What a shame!

Carol Nolden

How long do we read about the next citizen placed at the Santa Fe County jail who ends up with a death sentence? The deaths, injuries and rampant drugs continue under the watch of this Warden and those others who dismiss the ordeals citizens endure and fall back on policies as a shield. Policies might be followed and when they result in the conditions that exist for inmates and staff, then the policies need to be changed. The buck never seems to stop; the Warden is responsible for what goes on in his jail. Right?

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