Death after death: unprecedented times at pima county jail

Despite an all-time low in the jail population at Pima County Jail, the number of deaths is at a record-high. Families and community advocates are demanding change, your Friday long read

We go to Perilous Chronicle for this week's long read by Ryan Fatica. Read the whole story, “‘It was a nightmare’: Pima County Jail Deaths Reach Decade High.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time!

An unfortunate cycle of death

When Frances Guzman didn’t hear from her son for two days, she knew something was wrong. She checked the Pima County Jail’s website and found that her son, Cruz Patiño Jr. III, 22, had been arrested July 30 and was being held in the county jail. She scheduled a visit for August 3 at 1:30 p.m.

“I scheduled that visit so I could make sure my son was okay,” Guzman said.

Just a few hours before her scheduled visit, Guzman got a call from a detective with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, informing her that her son had been found unresponsive in his cell and transported to St. Mary’s Hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, doctors told Guzman that her son was on life support and was not expected to live. Less than an hour later, he was pronounced dead.

“When I was at the hospital the doctor had told me they were going to do everything they can to figure out what the cause [of death] is so I can have some comfort and peace,” Guzman said. “And I don’t have that comfort or peace.”

Since Patiño’s death, the Pima County Jail has reported the deaths of three more detainees, pushing the total number of people to die in jail custody this year to 9. In October, Sandra Judson, 71, and Jacob Miranda, 22, were both “found unresponsive” in their cells, and in both cases, sheriffs reported finding “no signs of trauma or suspicious circumstances.”


When asked about the deaths in the jail this year, Sheriff Chris Nanos said that although it’s his job to provide a safe jail environment, many aspects of the jail are out of his hands, such as the jail population and the privatized medical services. Medical services in the jail are overseen by the Pima County Department of Behavioral Health. 

Nanos said that three of the detainees who died in the jail this year may have died from overdoses of methadone provided to them during their incarceration. “I know we had some overdoses that we were concerned about that were directly related to the administration of methadone,” Nanos said.

Paula Perrera, Director of the Pima County Department of Behavioral Health said that until recently, those receiving medication assisted treatment services, such as methadone, from Community Medical Services, a private opioid treatment provider, had been allowed to continue receiving those services during their incarceration in the jail. The department has recently begun to phase out that relationship and is transitioning all methadone treatment to the jail’s main medical provider.

Bottom line

Despite being examined by the nurse and determined ready to return to his cell the evening before, Patiño was found “unresponsive” at approximately 5:55 a.m. the next morning. Jail staff were alerted to his condition by his cell mates who banged on the cell door, demanding Patiño receive medical attention. Patiño was given CPR by medical staff, who also administered naloxone–an opiate overdose reversal drug. 

Patiño was rushed to St. Mary’s hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:26 a.m. “It was a nightmare,” said Guzman. 

To Sheriff Nanos, Patiño is an example of someone who never should have been in the jail in the first place. “Mr. Patiño, 22-years-old, basically got a death sentence because he was sentenced in there for all these misdemeanor warrants,” said Nanos. “Misdemeanor warrants with a $250 bond. It could have been a $10 bond and he couldn’t have paid it. He didn’t have $10 to his name.” 

Court records show that in January, 2021, Patiño was arrested with a friend outside a home and charged with burglary for allegedly breaking into an outdoor laundry room. According to a statement from Patiño’s co-defendant in the case, the two were using drugs and were hungry and broke into the laundry room which contained outdoor food storage.

Patiño did not live long enough to go to trial in the case, but his co-defendant accepted a misdemeanor plea shortly before Patiño’s death and was released on probation. 

Read the whole article here.

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