Attorneys say N.M. jail could not find inmates for hearings, meetings
The agency is struggling to come back online after a ransomware attack earlier this month
By Elise Kaplan
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On Thursday, one of Ryan Villa's clients was supposed to appear at a pretrial detention hearing — by way of a tablet in a room at the county jail.
Instead, the defense attorney was told his client could not be found within the jail. The hearing could not be held.
And Villa said three other defendants who were supposed to be at the hearing also could not be found.
Although he didn't know exactly what the issue is, Villa suspects it had something to do with the ransomware attack against Bernalillo County earlier this month. The attack meant officials were not able to access cameras at the jail for a period of time, and inmates were put on lockdown and had less access to telephones and tablets.
[More: Cyberattack leads to N.M. jail lockdown, settlement violations]
"I guess because they would go into their computer and look up where they are, and I guess that's not working or wasn't working (Thursday)," Villa said. "I'm not sure how they are keeping track of where people are now — if it's on paper or what — but it's kind of important for fundamental things like medicine and going to court and seeing your lawyer."
Neither the jail's chief nor the director for administrative services was available for an interview about the issue Villa and others described.
Instead, a county spokeswoman wrote in an email that no one has gotten lost in the system.
"There have been a few instances where offenders have come into the facility using various aliases and it's taken a little longer to sort out their identity, due to paper processing procedures related to the ransomware situation," wrote spokeswoman Tia Bland. "The jail is expecting a return to electronic records sometime next week."
Villa is one of several attorneys who have shared this experience recently.
Matthew Chavez, the district defender for the 2nd Judicial District, said public defenders have told him about going to the jail or going to hearings only to be told the client couldn't be found.
As of mid-November, the jail had a 31% vacancy rate and Chavez said he thinks chronic understaffing at the jail contributed to the problem caused by the ransomware attack.
He said the situation is severely harming defendants and depriving them of their constitutional rights.
"If an accused person is not brought before the court for their hearing they are unable to exercise their constitutional rights to due process and to have their matter heard and for their case to proceed in a timely fashion," Chavez said.
(c)2022 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)