It was close to dawn and the other inmates had tried to help all night.
Hours earlier, when 50-year-old Doug Edmisten started violently writhing on his bottom bunk, they called for help, according to court documents in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by his family, laying out the grim tick-tock. When the burly U.S. Army Vet grabbed his stomach and heaved blood onto the floor, the others wiped the red fluid across the unit’s windows and kicked the door, trying to signal how serious it was to the keepers.
When staff continued to ignore the deteriorating man, the men housed in the “Golf Pod” of the Cibola County Detention Center, 70 miles west of Albuquerque, N.M., prayed, according to security footage obtained by a local TV station, a dozen inmates shirtless or in orange jumpsuits - some waiting out misdemeanor court dates, others short sentences in county lock up - holding hands in a circle.
And when the jail medic finally arrived around 5 a.m. and declared Edmisten dead, one of the inmates was cradling his head while another read from a Bible.
But Edmisten wasn’t actually gone yet, the lawsuit argues, which says during a seven-hour stretch in July 2016, Cibola County jail employees allegedly failed to take reasonable action to save Edmisten as his body succumbed to a burst blood vessel in his stomach. The legal complaint now seeks to redress from the prison staff and medical professions on-site for negligence.
“They are trying to make this out as if he died from a terminal illness, and that’s not the truth,” Glenn Valdez, the attorney representing Edmisten’s family in the lawsuit, told the Santa Fe New Mexican last week. “This is not some guy who was on death’s door from his medical condition. This is a guy who had a medical emergency, and they didn’t help him. He was throwing up blood, and they didn’t help him.”
It’s unclear why Edmisten was even still in the detention center. Friends told the New Mexican Edmisten was a military Vet originally from Pennsylvania who built storage sheds for a living and rode his motorcycle across the country. Edmisten had earlier minor brushes with the law, resulting in open warrants for DWI and leaving the scene of an accident in which no one was injured.
About three weeks before his death, Edmisten was arrested on his open warrants and placed in the general population to await a trial date. He was due to be released, the New Mexican reported, but “for a reason not listed in the file, a bondsman who had posted bail for him had pulled the bond back.”
On the night after his almost-release, Edmisten’s fellow inmates in his jail pod reported he was ill at 10:14 p.m. A medical professional from the center was called to the unit. Edmisten was “notably pale” and his “skin also appeared yellow,” the suit says. The inmate told the medical staff his abdoman was in pain and he had vomited blood. He was taken to the center’s medical unit at 10:54. There, he vomited up blood again, and registered a rocketing pulse rate of 144 beats per minute. But instead of keeping Edmisten for treatment, he was sent packing back to his cell by the center’s head services administrator.
Edmisten, according to the suit, could not walk back himself: two guards had to hoist him back to his bunk. Inmates in the pod continued to ask for medical help for Edmisten throughout the night. At 3:32 a.m., prisoners reported the inmate was worsening, that his “eyes were rolling back.” The medical staffer again returned to the pod, where she found Edmisten on a toilet seat, defecating blood. Edmisten was then wheeled back to the medical unit in a wheelchair. He was nonresponsive and couldn’t answer questions.
But once again, the ill man was ordered back to the pod. He was only in the medical unit for 15 minutes, according to his lawsuit. When a guard walked through the pod at 4:21 a.m., he was lying on the cell floor while one prisoner held his head and another read from the Bible. The guard, however, allegedly did not call for medical help and left the area. At 4:58 a.m., inmates told the center staff Edmisten had stopped breathing. The medical staffer returned within a few moments. She couldn’t find a pulse. He was dead, she determined. The pod was cleared, and the jail staff alerted the New Mexico State police at 5:07 a.m.
He was, however, actually still alive. Barely.
At 5:26 a.m., the medical staffer returned to the pod to double-check Edmisten with an electronic pulse oximeter. The device registered a faint pulse, and the center guards quickly called 911 nearly 20 minutes after first believing the inmate was already gone. EMS was there in five minutes, but it was too late. An autopsy would later determine Edmisten died of gastric bleeding that may have been exacerbated cirrhosis of the liver.
“I think that it was a financial decision,” attorney Valdez told KOB4. “They didn’t want to pay to transport him to a hospital.”
KOB4 also asked Cibola county for comment on the death, but were told by the city manager they could not comment on an ongoing legal matter. The county did tell the station detention center policies were being reviewed.