Otero County, New Mexico Detention Center Questions Mount: Suicides, Staffing Concerns, and Now Jacob Gutierrez Litigation


AlamogordoTownNews.org and KALHRadio.org has been involved in an ongoing investigation into staffing levels and concerns raised, by both staff, former staff, and detainees, at the Otero County Detention Center in Alamogordo, New Mexico. 

After receiving  multiple reports of concerns with scheduling, staffing levels to ensure the protection of medical staff, and questions concerning deaths that have occurred at the detention center to include a number of suicides and attempted suicides by inmates, we submitted public records requests in early April concerning staffing levels at the Detention Center. As reported in our story concerning concerns published on 5-22-25 the response provided us with the following information; ”that eight officers are assigned to each shift (days and nights) with one supervising officer to seven floor officers. The medical staff on the day shift consists of two registered/certified nurses and/or paramedics as well as the Health Service Administrator and Director of Nursing who are also registered nurses (four medical employees total). The medical staff on the night shift consists of two nurses/paramedics.

The facility also has a Certified Mental Health Coordinator and Counselor on site during the day. These Mental Health providers are on-call during non-working hours and can embolize at a seconds notice and are available to the detainees of OCDC 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if any crisis or situation may arise that requires their assistance or attention.”

A former medical care provider had approached our media company expressing concerns, mentioning that a number of “attempted suicides had occurred recently” on site, it was also reported to us that “when medical staff is making rounds to medicate inmates they are supposed to be accompanied by 2 officers for their safety and on many occasions they were forced to make rounds either unsupervised or with only 1 officer” verses the prescribed 2 to ensure safety.

As a part of our investigation we asked for stats on suicides that have occurred at the facility the last year to present. One suicide has been confirmed for this year at the detention center by hanging in March. Last year the detention center had 2 hangings, one suicide by overdose and one death by natural causes a total of 4 deaths at the facility.

The facility had struggled in past years with significant staffing shortages but they appear to be more stable than past but still a major concern.

Staffing issues have been an ongoing concern at the Otero County Detention Center. As recently as October of 2023 it was reported that the vacancy rate for detention center employees was 32%.

In a story by Source New Mexico the costs to Otero County as a result of issues at the Detention Center have skyrocketed over the last 2 years.

Otero County Commissioners voted unanimously earlier this month to pay more for people arrested in Otero County held at the Hudspeth County Jail in Sierra Blanca, Texas.

“Hudspeth County houses detainees for Otero County Detention Center when the facility is overcrowded and/or due to short staffing,” wrote Nena Sisler, the Otero County correctional services director, in the request for the item.

…Otero County spent $866,239 on incarcerating adults in 2022, according to the fiscal year 2023 budget. That’s up from $577,525 in 2021 which nearly doubled the 2020 rate of $295,109.

The Detention Center has been embroiled in controversy,  since opening. Since 2017, there have been ongoing and random issues of concern at this facility.  On April 30, 2017, during a routine lockdown, at least nine prisoners at the Otero County Jail refused to comply with orders, leading to unrest.

More recently on 5-21-24, the Otero County Sheriff’s Department confirmed an issue escalated resulting in approximately 14 police units from various law enforcement agencies dispatched to the local detention center to calm issues and to “restore order” to the facility. The most recent incident that triggered the riot began in the housing unit D3 when inmates refused to lock down. The reports allege that eight inmates in the housing unit armed themselves with weapons made into spears by breaking and sharpening a broom or mop handle. The detainees placed their bedding to hang on the railing on the top tier rooms to prevent officers from observing what they were doing via cameras or upon entering the unit.  A detention officer who was on duty but asked to remain anonymous stated to AlamogordoTownNews.org that the incident started “after we issued Pedro Felicia a write up for threatening medical staff.”

Now the Otero County Detention Center sees itself in litigation that may be the culmination or the results of staffing shortages, inexperience, a lack of training and neglect leading to concerns for welfare of detainees.

One of the suicides referenced in our investigation was that of Jacob Gutierrez, in  2023. 

The mother of the 26-year-old inmate is suing after she claims officials failed to prevent her son’s suicide in the Otero County Detention Center.

After being booked into the detention center in mid-2023, Jacob Gutierrez showed signs of suicidal thoughts and even told a visiting police officer that he had intentionally swallowed eight fentanyl pills, a possible suicide attempt, the lawsuit alleges.

Following a stay at the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, Gutierrez returned to the detention center, Gutierrez was not properly watched, the lawsuit claims. Gutierrez’s mother claims that the lack of oversight led to multiple suicide attempts. Eventually, staff found Gutierrez had killed himself with a cord from a phone.

Gutierrez’s mother is asking for compensation and punitive damages. The lawsuit places blame on Otero County Commissioners, detention officers, medical staff, and the company operating healthcare at the detention center, Vital Core Health Strategies.

The New Mexico Political Report reported that, R.B. Nickols, Otero County attorney, said the county cannot comment on pending litigation. Vital Core Health Strategies did not respond to a request for comment.

The Gutierrez estate is suing with legal help from New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, a nonprofit legal organization trying to raise awareness about inmate constitutional rights violations.

The jail knew Jacob was suicidal,” Mallory Gagan, an attorney at the New Mexico Prison & Jail Project that is representing Jacob’s mother, said in a press release as reported by the New Mexico Political Report. He even said so to them. It was obvious that Jacob’s actions were a series of desperate cries for help. There is no plausible justification for housing a suicidal inmate in a cell with a readily-available noose without observation. This devastating outcome was entirely avoidable.

The Otero County Detention Center in Alamogordo New Mexico continues to operate with questions around staffing levels, staff training and rather staff is developed and equipped to handle the job before them

Staff training has been questioned by former employees. One recently interviewed said, “some correctional officers are very young, ill trained and due to shortages easily intimidated by the detainees as a result. Due to their lack of experience and lack of training, on occasion they turn their head, a huge amount of drugs is being brought into the facility, and the warden fails to meet with inmates and fuels the situation, creating safety problems for staff and detainees.” 

The former staff member suggested that they would “not be surprised if more lawsuits are not filed and not only by detainees but by staff, and the ultimate cost to Otero County taxpayers to be in the millions, in addition to the mental stress on staff and detainees and the needless deaths that have occurred.

This is an evolving story…

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