A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a Belen man who died while in the Valencia County Detention Center in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed in district court in June 2018, alleging Robert Provencio, 44, of Belen, died after six days in the jail due to the negligence of jail staff and medical personnel employed by the jail’s health care contractor.
Los Lunas attorney Elias Barela filed the lawsuit on behalf of Provencio’s mother, Sally Provencio, of Cibola County, and Robert Provencio Jr., his son, and Maria Silva, Provencio Jr.’s mother, who both live in Valencia County.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the Valencia County Board of County Commissioners, VCDC Warden Joe Chavez, VCDC correctional officer Charles Bussey, and five John and Jane Does, as well as Southwest Correctional Medical Group, the company contracted with the jail for medical services, health care providers Alyssa Johnson, Cheryl Baca, Dr. Luigi Dulanto and five John and Jane Does.
According to the lawsuit, Provencio was booked into VCDC on June 10, 2016, where he was medically cleared for admission before being placed in a general population block.
During his first three days at the jail, Provencio was treated by medical personnel for opiate and alcohol detoxification.
On the morning of June 14, according to the complaint, Provencio’s medical condition “began to deteriorate unrelated to his detoxification,” and during a cell inspection that morning, he was “visibly weak and fatigued.”
Barela writes he began excreting blood from his esophagus and requested medical attention on multiple occasions.
Provencio was examined by medical personnel on June 15 and requested placement in a special housing unit to monitor his medical condition, but he was not.
“… despite having reported he was ‘throwing up blood’ the only assessment he received from any medical personnel … was having his pulse, temperature and blood pressure taken,” Barela alleges in the lawsuit.
He further alleges that Johnson, Dulanto, Baca and other Southwest Correctional Medical Group personnel were present during the assessment, but none of them did a physical exam of Provencio’s torso, chest or abdomen.
At about 10:45 a.m. on June 16, Barela claims Provencio was removed from his cell after he was “heard banging on the door begging for medical care,” and put in an outside recreation area in 90 degree heat by Bussey, instead of being taken to the medical unit.
“Struggling to stand … Mr. Provencio laid on the cement ground, in the hot sun, exposed, handcuffed, and on the verge of death,” Barela writes.
Provencio was taken to the medical department at about 11:10 a.m., where an ambulance was called at 11:25 a.m., which arrived about 10 minutes later.
While in the medical department, Barela claims Southwest medical personnel failed and/or refused to identify and provide Provencio with life-saving care, which resulted in his death.
Provencio’s body was dragged by its feet, Barela alleges, into a small office in the medical department while Southwest and AMR ambulance medical personnel attempted CPR. He was transported by ambulance to the University of New Mexico Hospital emergency department, where he was pronounced dead at 1:06 p.m.
The lawsuit claims that during his time at VCDC, jail employees and medical personnel were aware or should have been aware that Provencio had a serious medical condition unrelated to substance abuse, which rendered him unable to care for himself, and that he was in severe pain.
The lawsuit does not specifically name the medical condition it alleges Provencio had.
The plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial for unspecified compensatory damages and punitive damages.
VCDC Warden Joe Chavez said he could not comment on the lawsuit. Responses from the defendants deny the allegations of neglect.
The case has gone through multiple judge recusals and excusals since it was filed, and has been assigned to District Court Judge George Eichwald in Sandoval County.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.