Death and Laxness

If the jailers had paid attention, they might have noticed that Jose Rodriquez was dying

He also admitted to police that he had previously served prison time for burglary and possession of narcotics.

He was booked at Madison Street Jail at 12:45 a.m. on March 21. According to the incident report prepared in connection with his death, Rodriquez asked for medical attention that day. The report states that Rodriquez had no visible medical problems when he was booked, and it was not until the morning of March 25 that the infirmary received a call regarding his condition.

From the report, prepared by Detective Raymond Ondrejech:
"The medical records indicate that the infirmary received a call on 3-25-96 at approximately 0630 hours advising that RODRIQUEZ had been vomiting during the previous night and he was placed on sick call. He was seen at 1109 hours indicating he was withdrawing from drugs, had been vomiting, couldn't hold water, was dizzy and weak and had passed out. This entry was made by BETTY DARE, RN.

"He was observed at approximately 2100 hours on 3-25-96 during 'pill call' to be falling forward and then to the floor. His medication was taken to him and the nurse observed him to sit up to take his medication and he was alert."

Rodriquez was transferred to another pod. That's where he met Richard Vela, a fellow inmate who is accused of first-degree murder. Ironically, it was not the nurses in the infirmary, but Vela who took pity on Rodriquez.

"He not only was my own race, he deserved a chance just like everybody else," Vela says. "That's the way I look at it--everybody deserves a chance."

Tattoos snake around Vela's arms; strands of gray pop up in his straight, jet-black hair. He's only 28, but Vela has already served five years in prison for aggravated assault and burglary.

Raised in South Phoenix, Vela was living with his girlfriend in Glendale, working as a house framer, until this latest charge. Vela is accused in the March 7 death of Michael Gonzales, who was shot once in the neck.

He says, "People, they can think what they want. Just because I'm in here for [murder] don't mean I did it. Anybody who does know me, in here or out on the street, knows I have a big heart and I help people when I can."

"[The guards] brought him into the pod," Vela says. "They just dragged him in here--one officer had one arm, the other officer had the other arm, and his feet were dragging on the ground. They just dragged him into the pod and put him in his room."

To Vela, Rodriquez looked like a skeleton with skin. He could hear him moaning, even though Vela was upstairs and Rodriquez was downstairs.

Vela's account of Rodriquez's last days is basically the same as Detective Ondrejech's.

The authorities' one apparent concession to Rodriquez's condition is that he was on some sort of medication for withdrawal. (The incident report does not specify what kind of drug.)

Vela says, "I heard [the guards] call medication, you know, and you have to get up with your cup of water and go to the slider door to get your medicine, right? Well, they kept calling for Room Six. 'Come get your medicine, come get your medicine.' And the man, you know, all you could hear was him moaning and groaning."

Vela continues, "I jumped off my bed and I went down there and I started yelling at them. 'Officer,' I said, 'Hey, the dude's sick, man, why don't you take him his medicine?'

No reply.
"So I went downstairs and I went into [Rodriquez's] room and he was lying on the floor. So I got him and I picked him up and I said, 'Come on,' and he's like, 'No, no,' and I said, 'Come on, you've gotta help yourself,' so I got him like that, put his arm around me and walked him out there."

Vela stayed by Rodriquez's side, cajoling him into sipping water and replacing the soiled towel Rodriquez was using as a pillow with a folded blanket.

At 9:45 on the morning of March 26, during "pill call," Rodriquez vomited in Officer Shane Shurtz's face. According to his own account in the incident report, Shurtz did not rush Rodriquez to the infirmary, but instead rushed there himself to be cleaned up.

He wrote, "In the Madison St. Jail Medical Clinic I told Nurse Stephanie Gallardo RN of my exposure and how it had happened. As Nurse Gallardo was getting me cleaning supplies she had told me that Inmate Rodriquez was seen by medical 'yesterday' and he's been faking. Nurse Gallardo said that Rodriquez was able to get up and walk, that he was playing a game."

Gallardo told Shurtz he should be checked for infections he might contract from Rodriquez's vomit.

"She then said that since Rodriquez was still vomiting that maybe medical could see him sometime today."

As it turned out, "sometime" was too late. Vela spent that morning with Rodriquez, again offering him water and urging him to sleep.

At lunchtime, Vela saw Officer Michael Jacobson, Shurtz's partner. Rodriquez had missed breakfast, Vela says, so "I told the officer, I said, 'What about Room Six, Mr. Rodriquez? Is he gonna get his lunch?' He goes, 'Yeah, he's gonna get it, I'll take it to him.' And I said, 'Well, are you gonna sit there and make sure he eats it?' And he said, 'Aah, he's faking most of that.'"

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