‘Can’t bring him back’

Sugar Grove woman recounts what led to settlement in her son’s wrongful-death case

Times Observer photo by Stacey Gross Doug Edmisten’s mother, Judy Loney, reads coverage on her son’s wrongful death at the Cibola County Detention Center in Cibola County, N.M., one year before.

Doug Edmisten loved Harley Davidsons, and his family.

He was a U.S. Army veteran who built sheds for a living, and rode his motorcycle home from Kansas City, Mis., as a surprise for his nephew’s wedding.

He loved to work on cars, and he loved surprises.

“You never knew when he was coming home,” Doug’s mother, Judy Loney, said, recalling a time when Doug told his sister in a phone call that he was just out seeing how a car he was working on ran. Ten minutes later, he pulled in the driveway.

From her home in Sugar Grove, Loney recalls the happy memories that she has of Doug, which are what’s gotten her through the sometimes-crushing grief of having lost him to a preventable death in a New Mexico detention center nearly two years ago.

Around the beginning of July, 2016, Doug was arrested on open warrants relating to a DWI charge, as well as a charge of fleeing the scene of an accident in which no one had been injured, according to a July12, 2017 Washington Post article.

Along with dozens of other inmates at the Cibola County Detention Center (CCDC) in Milan, N.M., just over an hour west of Albuquerque, Doug was awaiting a hearing date for his charges. And, after getting one of Doug’s charges dismissed on the morning of July 7, 2016, his attorney Glenn Smith Valdez said that he was assured by detention center staff that bond had been posted and Doug would be released around 3 p.m. that afternoon.

For reasons still unclear to Valdez, Doug was not released that afternoon. And, at around 10:15 that evening, Doug reported to jail personnel that he had vomited blood, and that he was experiencing extreme abdominal pain. The next seven hours would see Doug twice denied medical treatment for what most EMTs will tell you is a medical emergency in every case, continuing to vomit blood. Ultimately, he died in the arms of a fellow inmate on the floor of his housing unit at the CCDC.

According to documentation that Valdez used to file suit against the detention center for Doug’s wrongful death: At around 10:54 on the night of July 7, 2016, a corrections officer was called to “Golf Pod,” the housing unit that Doug shared with multiple inmates either serving short terms or awaiting court action on their cases. The officer was reportedly told to escort Doug to the medical unit of the detention center to be seen by a medical officer on duty. By around 11:19 p.m., after the medical officer “asked (Doug) questions and took his vitals,” Doug was escorted back to his unit. At around 3:32 a.m. on the morning of July 8, master control officers reported that inmates began calling master control on an intercom stating, “he got worst (sic), his eyes are rolling back.”

According to the lieutenant on duty, he had spoken with Doug early in his shift when the inmate approached him to ask about his bond. “I had discussed his bond with the supervisor I had relieved when I came on shift,” Lt. Gilbert Gonzales writes in his statement regarding Doug’s death. “I advised him that the bondsmen (sic) had not put all of his charges on the paperwork and would need to send new paperwork in the morning to bond him out.” Gonzales makes a point to say in his written statement that “I noticed that he appeared to be physically ok,” at that time.

But, by 10:14 p.m., Doug was complaining of pain and reporting to inmates and corrections officers that he had vomited blood. Upon being told that Doug had been taken to medical, Gonzales said he went there to check on Doug. At that point, both Salvador and Gonzales claimed to have seen black vomit in the garbage can that Doug had vomited, and although they report that his vitals were normal, they both also acknowledged in the complaint filed by Valdez that vomiting blood is a medical emergency requiring treatment in a medical facility.

While Salvador appears to have called medical director for the facility Michael Hildenbrandt the first time Doug was taken to medical, Hildenbrandt told Salvador at that time, and continued to tell her during subsequent conversations, that Doug could wait until morning to be seen.

A written statement regarding the incident by detention advisor Michael Dodds states that after Doug was again taken to medical around 4 a.m., Dodds called Hildenbrandt, who told him that “all Inmate Edmistens (sic) vitals had been reported him as normal,” and that Edmisten could wait until morning. “Mr. Hildenbrandt also told me that Salvador also mentioned that she though (sic) he was ‘faking it.'”

It’s unclear what she may have thought he was faking, since she herself reported to her lieutenant — and showed him — the black vomit that Doug had produced in the medical unit based on Gonzales’ own statement.

In any case, although Doug repeatedly asked to be kept in the medical unit, citing the volume of noise in the housing unit being a barrier to his ability to rest, as well as his concern that other inmates seeing him as vulnerable due to illness might pose a threat to his safety, Doug was again returned to the housing unit.

From shortly after 10 p.m. to shortly after 5 a.m., Doug reportedly continued to vomit and defecate blood, pass in and out of consciousness, grow continually more pale, and ultimately die as inmates made pleas to jail personnel to take him to the hospital. At one point, according to the complaint filed by Valdez, inmates wiped blood that Doug had vomited on the window of the housing unit to convey the urgency of the situation. Lieutenant Gonzales himself reports that he witnessed Doug growing increasingly pale, but that orders from Hildenbrandt and Dodds were that Doug was not to be transported until morning.

With Doug’s bond on hold until at least the morning of July 8, Valdez said, he is unable to draw any conclusion other than that Hildenbrandt’s motivation for delaying calling an ambulance to transport Doug was financial.

“The county would have been responsible for the cost of transport and any medical care provided by the local hospital,” Valdez said. “The staff on-site was in touch with both Health Services Administrator Michael Hildenbrandt and the Jail Director Michael Dodds and the Lt. On Duty submitted a report that stated that he told the director that Doug was very sick and needed to go to the hospital.”

Valdez goes on to say, “They have never admitted it was a financial decision, but of course they have also denied liability for anything that occurred.”

According to Valdez, their own medical expert in the wrongful-death case states that had Doug been taken to the hospital even as late as 4 a.m. on the morning of July 8, he would have “walked out of the hospital four days later.”

Valdez said that Cibola County Attorney David Pato “tried desperately to get a confidentiality agreement from us and we refused him again and again.”

What Valdez and Loney said they want people to know is what happened to Doug.

“There are days I still cry,” said Loney. “Some nights I still cry myself to sleep. I probably will until the day I die. I wonder what was going through his head that night,” she says.

While no one can know what was going through Doug’s head as he died on the floor of the Cibola County Detention Center, security footage of Golf Pod from that night tell us that, whatever it was, his head was cradled by one fellow inmate while another read to him from the bible and dozens more joined hands around his body to form a prayer chain.

No fewer than eight inmates filed complaints with jail administration following Doug’s death. All of the complaints were denied, citing the fact that an inmate cannot make a complaint on behalf of another inmate.

“We can’t bring him back,” said Loney. “Nothing can ever bring him back. But I want everyone to know what happened to him. And I want anyone who has any question to look into it. If you have someone who died in jail and you’re not sure, check it out,” she said. Had it not been for the difference between the CCDC’s account of how Doug died — they attributed his death, initially, to cirrhosis and liver failure — and the medical examiner’s finding that Doug bled to death from an untreated ruptured blood vessel in his stomach, Loney said they would never have known.

“It could be going on in a lot of other jails,” said Loney.

And, while she said she doesn’t assume that other jails — including local jails — are disregarding patient well-being, she said that the trauma has soured her toward jails and their administration in general.

“It’s like you get bit by a big dog,” said Loney, “it doesn’t matter. You’re afraid of the next big dog. Even if you don’t need to be.”

She said that even in her seventies, she has made it her mission to become an advocate for other families who’ve experienced wrongful-death cases. “It sounds stupid, at 71, to say it but I’d like to go on and let people know that this is going on.”

Loney said that she still has a hard time believing that Doug is gone.

“He was always the first one to call me on the holidays. He was always the one I’d hear from first on Christmas, New Years,” she said.

When she and her husband would go to visit him, said Loney, “mama couldn’t lift a finger.”

While Doug did not have a wife and children of his own, his brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and his parents were his life, she said.

That’s why, said Loney, part of the settlement that she and Valdez won from Cibola County — a settlement of five million dollars — will be used to build a new home.

“We’ve been living in this old thing,” said Loney in her Sugar Grove trailer, “for a long time. It’s what Doug would have wanted.”

Still, Loney wishes every day that she could trade the money back for her son. She also harbors a sincere hope of one day going to New Mexico to meet the men who held her son, as he died in their arms, face to face.

“Just hug your kids,” said Loney. “Hug them and kiss them. Every morning. Every night. Tell them you love them. It doesn’t take that long to say ‘I love you,’ or to write it a sentence. If you’re sending a text, make sure it says ‘I love you’ at the end. You never know when you won’t be able to say those words again.”

Neither Cibola County Attorney Pato nor the bail bondsman in Doug’s case returned requests for comment on this story.