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Two inmates die in one week in Metropolitan Detention Center

Bernalillo County

Bernalillo County announced the death of two inmates this week at the Metropolitan Detention Center. There have been over 20 inmate deaths at the center since 2020, but these are the first since University of New Mexico Hospital took over as its health care provider earlier this summer.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that 48-year-old Robert Torivio died in the detox unit on Wednesday, a day after he was brought to the jail. He was unhoused at the time of his death. He was arrested after missing a June court hearing, stemming from a previous arrest for drug possession because he was found with a single fentanyl pill.

A Bernalillo County spokesperson said in a statement that MDC and the UNM Hospital Rapid Response Team responded to the medical emergency with “life saving measures” that were unable to revive Torivio. The statement did not give a cause of death.

A second person, 39-year-old Lona Armstrong, died Friday. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator will investigate both deaths.

Many of the 26 people who have died in the jail in the last three years were detoxing. UNMH took over healthcare at the facility in July, after several private companies were contracted to do the work, then failed to fill crucial positions and provide adequate care.

Retired Albuquerque Attorney Peter Cubra has advocated for the rights of incarcerated people for decades, and told New Mexico PBS in an interview last month that the change is encouraging, but the contract between the county and university puts UNM in a risky position.

“The county stopped giving decent care to save money,” he said. “The county for years kept paying too little to save money. And now the county has to either pay an adequate amount, or even UNM can't rescue the situation.”

Both incidents are pending investigation by the MDC Office of Professional Standards and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Megan Myscofski was a reporter with KUNM's Poverty and Public Health Project.
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