A detailed log kept by Santa Fe County jail guards of Carmela DeVargas’ time at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center shows jail administrators continued the use of mechanical restraints on her for several days against the recommendations of her doctor.
DeVargas was a patient at Christus St. Vincent for eight days in October before she was transferred to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she died Nov. 9 of an epidural abscess, antibiotic-resistant staph infection due to chronic substance abuse and swelling of the brain, according to a report by the state Office of the Medical Investigator.
According to the logs, which were provided to The New Mexican by DeVargas family attorney Richard Rosenstock, the 34-year-old woman from Servilleta was kept in mechanical restraints despite being considered paralyzed from the neck down. Family members said doctors told them she would never again walk.
“Restraints back on inmate,” wrote a guard on Oct. 21. “Was advised inmate will be woken up that restraints can go back on in case she decides to run.”
According to the jail’s policies, inmates in the hospital are to be restrained by leg irons, handcuffs and a belly chain.
Rosenstock, who said he plans to file a tort claim on behalf of the family, said the decision to keep DeVargas in mechanical restraints despite her inability to walk was a form of torture.
DeVargas was taken to the hospital Oct. 20, after weeks of telling guards and nurses she felt weak and had a constant high fever. In interviews with The New Mexican, women in the jail described instances of guards ignoring DeVargas’ pleas for help, telling her she was not sick and blaming her illness on drug use.
Her father, Antonio DeVargas of Servilleta, has repeatedly called his daughter’s death a negligent homicide.
Santa Fe County attorney Robin Gurule wrote in an email Friday she could not authenticate the documents provided by Rosenstock because the county “does not directly or indirectly reveal such protected medical information.”
The log provided by Rosenstock contains notes every five to 25 minutes by the guards stationed in DeVargas’ hospital room 24 hours a day, detailing what was happening inside her room.
Just one day after she arrived at the hospital, her doctors advised against the use of mechanical restraints in favor of soft ones.
“Medical director in the ICU wanted to speak with [Lt. Rojas or Capt. Rios] about the mechanical restraints be removed,” one of the notes states. “Inmate in a coma, sedative coma, and it could make her sick or make her skin infected.”
Notes show guards removed the restraints for two hours before reapplying them. From Oct. 22 to Oct. 23, guards did not make a single note about the use of restraints, and it is not mentioned again until Oct. 24, when a guard wrote they received permission to remove them while DeVargas received an MRI.
The restraints were then removed permanently on the morning of Oct. 27, one day before DeVargas was transferred to Albuquerque.
County spokeswoman Carmelina Hart wrote in an email Friday that she could not answer questions regarding the decision by jail administrators to keep DeVargas in mechanical restraints, citing health privacy laws.