Lawsuit: N.M. officials allowed man to die of withdrawals in jail

Juan Archuleta misused alcohol and heroin and became sick — sometimes experiencing tremors and seizures — when he stopped

By Phaedra Haywood
The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. — The family of a man who died in 2020 at the Rio Arriba County jail in Tierra Amarilla is suing the county and its inmate health care provider, saying he would be alive if it weren't for their negligence.

Attorneys for Juan Archuleta's family filed a civil complaint in state District Court recently accusing the defendants — including Vital Core Health Strategies and former jail director Larry H. DeYapp — of wrongful death, medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.

Archuleta, 44, was under the influence of substances when he was admitted to the jail on Oct. 2, 2020, according to the lawsuit.

Jail staff knew from a four-minute admission screening that Archuleta misused alcohol and heroin and became sick — sometimes experiencing tremors and seizures — when he stopped using the substances, according to the lawsuit.

The assessment categorized him as an inmate in need of withdrawal management, which required repeat assessments every four hours for his first 24 hours in custody, the lawsuit says.

Experts in alcohol and opioid withdrawal recommend a person undergoing a detoxification process never do so alone, and Archuleta should have been reassessed at least six times his first day in jail, the complaint argues.

But that didn't happen, the lawsuit says; instead, he was placed alone in a cell with a complete lack of monitoring and was found unresponsive in his cell the next morning.

The county and Vital Core have a long-standing practice of failing to report, diagnose and treat the medical and mental health needs of prisoners, attorney Parrish Collins alleged in the civil complaint, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

So much so, Collins wrote, that to do so was standard operating procedure and amounted to reckless disregard for Archuleta's safety.

"All defendants conspired together to deny Mr. Archuleta necessary and proper medical care leading to physical pain, severe emotional and psychological pain and suffering, and wrongful death," Collins wrote in the lawsuit.

Neither Rio Arriba County Manager Lucia Sánchez nor Deputy County Manager Matthew Casados responded to messages seeking comment Friday.

Messages seeking comment from Vital Core Strategies were also not returned.

Online court records indicate Archuleta has a criminal history dating to 1994, consisting mainly of property crimes.

The Rio Grande Sun reported in 2020 that Española police arrested Archuleta on several outstanding warrants the night before his death.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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