A woman accused of participating in a drive-by shooting spree the morning of Sept. 30 died last week in a local hospital from the effects of a drug overdose she suffered in jail, Santa Fe police confirmed Monday.
Officers learned during their investigation Brianna Romero, 20, died Oct. 10 at Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center, Deputy Chief Paul Joye said.
Romero was one of three people arrested in the shooting, which damaged several apartment buildings and vehicles on Jaguar Drive and led to lockdowns at Capital High and other nearby schools. She and her sister, Deavonne Romero, 23, and 16-year-old Elijah Gallegos were charged with over a dozen felonies.
After the arrests, Deavonne Romero was booked in the Santa Fe County jail, and Gallegos was sent to the San Juan County juvenile detention facility. But Brianna Romero was taken to Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center for treatment of an opioid overdose. It would be the first of two overdoses she experienced while in custody.
After her arrest around 11 a.m. Sept. 30, Brianna Romero was placed in a holding cell at the Santa Fe Police Department’s headquarters on Camino Entrada, Joye said. Just after 12:30 p.m., he said, she was found unresponsive in her cell.
Officers attempted lifesaving measures, including the administration of the anti-overdose drug naloxone, until emergency medical responders arrived, police reports say. Doctors at Presbyterian later discovered a bag of pills, which investigators suspected to be fentanyl, in a body cavity.
Romero was released from the hospital at 5:45 p.m. that day after doctors provided medical clearance for her incarceration. She was booked into the jail two hours later, records show.
The next morning, a guard found her unresponsive in her cell “approximately 20 minutes” after a previous guard check. She was taken to Presbyterian a second time and again was “revived with Narcan,” a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office report says. But she was still suffering from cardiac events. A doctor found a bag with “clear crystals” in a body cavity.
Joye said the bag was separate from the one found by doctors a day earlier. It was unclear, however, when or where Romero obtained the second bag of substances and when she hid it in a body cavity.
The bag was handed over to the jail, which released Romero from custody after learning she likely would not survive the overdose. Doctors told a sergeant at the jail Romero’s “physical condition was unstable with no signs of neurological functioning,” according to the sheriff’s office report.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Juan Ríos said deputies are not investigating the substance in the bag. The jail would have to first request an investigation, he said.
Santa Fe County officials did not respond to questions about the jail’s booking process, such as whether it includes body cavity searches or X-rays.
When asked if the jail was conducting an investigation into Romero’s fatal overdose, county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart wrote in an email, “Medical information of current and former inmates is confidential by law. All critical incidents are evaluated internally.”
Romero was released from the county’s custody by a court order around 12:10 p.m. Oct. 1, Hart added.
Joye said the police department is conducting an internal investigation to determine if any officers violated policy during Romero’s arrest and booking process. He noted officers only perform pat-downs, not cavity searches, during arrests.
Romero was alone in the holding cell and was monitored by a security camera, he added.
“When she was cleared for incarceration by Presbyterian doctors, they made the determination she was healthy enough to be booked into jail,” Joye said.
Melanie Mozes, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center, said she could not release any details about Romero’s hospitalization due to federal patient privacy laws. She noted the process for admitting and releasing patients is the same regardless of whether they are incarcerated.
“Patients are evaluated for emergency medical conditions based on their presenting symptoms and medical complaint and provided with stabilizing care,” Mozes said. “Depending on a patient’s needs, they may be admitted to the hospital, transferred for a higher level of care or discharged home. With respect to incarcerated patients, they are discharged to law enforcement rather than home.”
Deavonne Romero told police her sister was not known to use narcotics and she hadn’t seen her sister take any drugs the day of the shooting, reports say.
When it appeared Brianna Romero would not survive her second overdose, Deavonne Romero requested a furlough from jail so she could visit her sister in the hospital. Her defense attorney, Sam Ruyle, said she was never granted permission to see Brianna before she died.
The family has set up a GoFundMe campaign, bit.ly/3AU5zFC, to help pay for funeral costs.