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Suit alleges ‘corruption’ at Taos jail led to fatal overdose

July 28, 2018

TAOS — The parents of a man who died in 2016 at the Taos County jail are accusing administrators of failing to take action on dangerous drugs entering the jail and alleging they “sold drugs in the facility themselves.”

Nancy and Tad Bourg filed the lawsuit earlier this week in state District Court on behalf of their deceased son, Jonathan Bourg.

On July 28, 2016, one day before he was scheduled to be released into a residential treatment program, 29-year-old Jonathan Bourg died of a heroin overdose.

Bourg suffered from lifelong mental illness because of oxygen deprivation at birth, the suit says, and later turned to drugs as a means to cope. In May 2016, he was arrested on suspicion of larceny and robbery, and possession of methamphetamine, and incarcerated in Pod B at the Taos County jail.

It was a time when dangerous narcotics were easy for detainees to access, the complaint alleges, because jail administrators — including Director Nelson Abeyta — failed to take action. The suit claims Abeyta, who became director of the facility the same month Bourg was incarcerated, knew drugs were present in Pod B.

Medical staff at the jail learned Bourg had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, methamphetamine anxiety disorder and severe depressive episodes, and placed him on antianxiety and anti-psychotic medications in late June, the suit says. Given his history of drug abuse, they also recommended he be admitted into a residential treatment center “as soon as possible.”

A month later, the suit says, a bed became available for Bourg at a treatment center outside Taos County.

But jailers found him dead the following day.

Nancy and Tad Bourg’s attorney, Daniel Yohalem of Santa Fe, told the Taos News he obtained records indicating an officer at the jail had notified Abeyta “a day or two prior to Jonathan Bourg’s death … that there was heroin present and being used in Pod B. Mr. Abeyta was further informed as to who possessed and was distributing the drugs.”

On the day of Bourg’s death, another detainee in Pod B, Melesio Martinez, 28, also suffered an overdose but survived, the suit says, and a third detainee was found in possession of heroin after jailers conducted a shakedown following the back-to-back overdoses.

According to the lawsuit, the jail “suffered from endemic corruption and instability” from 2012 through 2016.

It recounts a history of high staff turnover at the jail, including “repeated firings of administrators who were then replaced by other corrupt administrators.” It also cites the 2013 arrest and conviction of Joseph R. Salazar, a cook at the jail who was caught smuggling heroin inside hollowed-out bars of soap in April 2013.

The lawsuit comes amid an internal investigation at the jail that so far has led to the arrests of two staff members and several others being placed on paid leave. Taos County sheriff’s deputies and Taos police officers reportedly discovered “contraband” at the jail during a July 10 shakedown, though details of the contraband have not been released.

County Manager Leandro Cordova said in a statement that the decision to place the employees on paid leave “in no way implies suspicion.”

Cordova declined to provide further comment.

Abeyta and County Commissioner Jim Fambro did not respond to phone and email inquiries regarding the lawsuit.

This story first appeared in the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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