Jailers Blamed for Pretrial Detainee’s Long, Painful Death

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — New Mexico jail officials let a pretrial detainee vomit blood for seven hours before giving him medical attention — whereupon they declared him dead, though he was not — yet, his survivors claim in court.

The estate of Douglas Edmisten sued Cibola County Detention Center director Michael Dodds, a jail lieutenant and two of its medical providers on July 5 in Santa Fe County Court.

(The 21-page lawsuit misspells Edmisten’s name as Edminsten.)

Edmisten, 50, a military veteran, was awaiting trial on misdemeanor charges, including DUI and traffic offenses. He sought help at 10:14 p.m. on July 7, 2016, vomiting blood. Jailers “observed Doug falling down, lying on the floor and vomiting blood,” the complaint states. “No medical treatment was given to Doug and he was ordered to return to his jail pod. Doug Edmisten died on the floor of his jail pod shortly after 5:25 a.m. on July 8, 2016.”

During those seven hours, he was twice brought to the jail’s medical center, and both times sent back to his cell without receiving any medical care, his pleas for help, according to the complaint.

The only solace the dying man received was from fellow inmates, who begged guards to take him to the hospital and read Bible passages to him. Surveillance video from the jail obtained by KOB4 TV in Albuquerque shows inmates comforting the desperately ill man, cradling his head and forming a prayer circle.

Only when his fellow detainees told guards he had stopped breathing, at about 5 a.m., was any action taken. A medical tech couldn’t find Edmisten’s pulse, he was declared dead, and jailers made arrangements for his body to be taken away. Twenty minutes or so late, jail staff checked him with a pulse-oximeter and found he was still alive, but he died soon after, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to jail director Dodds, the defendants are Cibola County Lt. Gilbert Gonzales, a jail supervisor; Casey Salvador, a county employee hired “to provide medical care including emergency medical care” at the jail; and Michael Hildenbrandt, a registered nurse and the health services administrator at the jail. According to the complaint, all four were “acting under the color of state law and within the scope of (their) duties.” All are sued in their individual capacity.

An autopsy revealed that Edmisten, who was suffering from cirrhosis, had a burst blood vessel in his stomach.

Glenn Smith Valdez, the family’s attorney, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Edmisten could have survived had he been given prompt medical treatment.

“They are trying to make this out as if he died from a terminal illness, and that’s not the truth,” Valdez told the weekly newspaper. “This is not some guy who was on death’s door from his medical condition. This is a guy who had a medical emergency, and they didn’t help him. He was throwing up blood and they didn’t help him.”

The estate seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations, including due process violations and inhumane conditions of confinement, medical negligence, deliberate indifference, pain and suffering, negligence, and lost chance of survival.

Attorney Smith Valdez is in Albuquerque.

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