Lawsuit filed after Rio Arriba inmate hanged himself

February 11, 2019

The survivors of a man who hanged himself in the Rio Arriba County jail in December have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against county officials and the company that provided health care in the facility, claiming their negligence led to his death.

A complaint recently filed in state District Court says Aaron Baca displayed multiple risk factors for suicide when he was booked into the jail on a probation violation on Nov. 29, 2018.

Baca, 28, was part of an age group in which suicide is most prevalent, according to the lawsuit. He had been diagnosed with opiate use disorder — making him 13 times more likely to commit suicide, according to the complaint. He had been diagnosed with depression, and was struggling to cope with the recent death of his parents.

The jail also denied Baca doctor-prescribed methadone to treat his heroin addiction, the complaint says.

“Despite the numerous indications that Mr. Baca was a high suicide risk,” the complaint says, “he was placed in a cell alone, with inadequate monitoring and no suicide precautions in place.”

Five days later, Baca was found hanging from a sheet in his cell. He was taken to Presbyterian Española Hospital and placed on life support, and later transported to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, according to the complaint. But he was removed from life support and pronounced dead Dec. 8.

The complaint accuses the Rio Arriba County Commission, Rio Arriba County Adult Detention Facility Administrator Larry DeYapp, VitalCore Health Strategies — and various employees in the organizations— of failing to ensure that Baca received proper care while in the Tierra Amarilla facility.

The complaint contends the jail was not accredited by the American Corrections Association nor the National Commission on Correction Health Care at the time of the incident and had a recent history of inmates dying in custody.

“Around the time of the incident involving Mr. Baca,” the complaint says, “two other inmates were found unresponsive in their cells and [were] later pronounced dead at local hospitals.”

Neither Rio Arriba County manager Tomas Campos III or DeYapp responded to messages seeking comment for this story.

Vital Core Health Strategies LLC also did not return calls seeking comment.

The Rio Grande Sun newspaper reported in December that Campos said Rio Arriba County hadn’t done anything wrong in the Baca case when asked if the deaths at the jail would would lead to a review of policies.

Baca’s estate, represented by his sister Danielle Medina, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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