'That was a lapse that shouldn't have happened'

Video of multiple-slayings suspect attacking guards raises questions about security at Rio Arriba jail>Suspect in 5 murders roams jail, attacks guards before being subdued

Damian Herrera, who allegedly shot and killed three members of is own family and two other people in Northern New Mexico, assaulted a guard in the Rio Arriba County jail while roaming freely.
Video from The Santa Fe New Mexican
Posted

As a Rio Arriba County jail guard deals with paperwork, a shirtless Damian Herrera casually walks into view of a surveillance camera in the jail's booking area. After the guard gets up and goes into a nearby jail cell, Herrera, who faces five murder charges stemming from a killing spree across Rio Arriba and Taos counties last month, closes the cell door behind the guard, locking him inside.

Herrera then rushes to grab a flashlight from underneath a desk and hides behind a wall before attacking a second jail guard. After the two get into a scuffle, a few more guards and an emergency medical technician eventually manage to gain control over Herrera and strap him to a wheeled chair.

The video of the July 15 episode raises questions about how securely Herrera, 21, of Ojo Caliente is being held while he awaits prosecution in one of Northern New Mexico's worst multiple-slaying cases in decades.

Larry DeYapp, warden for the jail in Tierra Amarilla, said Thursday he couldn't say why Herrera was allowed to roam around in the booking area, where Herrera managed to trick the lone guard into his cell by telling him the toilet was backed up.

The warden said the matter is under internal review and charges are pending against Herrera in connection with the incident, in which one 26-year-old guard suffered a cut above his left eye and facial bruises when he was hit with the flashlight.

Before the attack, DeYapp said, he had talked to First Judicial District Attorney Marco Serna, whose office is prosecuting four of the five murder cases, about transferring Herrera to another facility. But since the attack, DeYapp said, he hasn't requested a transfer.

Rio Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan has said Herrera should be moved to the state penitentiary south of Santa Fe. But New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said the county hasn't asked prison officials about transferring Herrera.

Serna and the 8th Judicial District Attorney, Donald Gallegos of Taos, who is prosecuting one of the murder charges against Herrera, didn't return messages from The New Mexican seeking comment.

Michael Rosenfield, a public defender assigned to Herrera, also didn't return a phone message from The New Mexican seeking comment.

Herrera, a student at The University of New Mexico-Taos, is being held without bond as he awaits trial on five open counts of murder. He is accused of fatally shooting his stepfather, Max Trujillo Sr., 55; younger brother, Brendon Herrera, 20; and mother, Maria Rosita Gallegos, 55, at their home in La Madera, and then fleeing in the family's truck. Police say he later fatally shot Michael Kyte, 61, of Tres Piedras in Taos County and stole his truck, and then, after a long drive into Colorado and back, killed Manuel Serrano, 59, a man he encountered at a gas station in Abiquiú.

Police say Herrera led officers on a high-speed chase that ended when he crashed the stolen truck about 13 miles north of Española. Video footage of his arrest shows that he aggressively charged at a Rio Arriba County deputy and struggled with officers before they were able to handcuff him.

Herrera, in an interview with a state police agent after his arrest, denied killing his mother and younger brother and said he killed his stepfather in self-defense after the man killed his brother and mother. He also told the interviewer that he shot the two strangers in self-defense, according to a report released earlier this month.

Miles Conway, the communications director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in New Mexico, which represents corrections officers, said the jail in Tierra Amarilla lacks adequate resources and manpower.

Conway said he has talked to the guards involved in the July 15 incident and was told that Herrera was walking around the booking area because the inmate is allowed outside of his cell for an hour each day.

For the past year, he said, the union has told the county that the jail needs more guards and better training. For example, Conway said, Herrera should have been under supervision by at least two guards.

"By any metric, he should have been treated with more security," he said. "That was a lapse that shouldn't have happened."

On the night of the incident, he said, only about five guards were on duty to keep an eye on a general population of about 100 inmates as well as Herrera, who is kept isolated from other inmates.

Contact Uriel Garcia at 505-986-3062 or ugarcia@sfnewmexican­.com. Follow him on Twitter @ujohnnyg.

This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sister publication of The Taos News. 

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Patrick Pickens

Given the entire history of this man as it has played out in recent weeks, including this incident, I contend that he is affected by untreated mental illness. Given that persons close to him who were interviewed following the related tragedy all stated that he was not a person known to be violent, etc., and to now witness his overtly unstable condition, I would ask that beyond the need for Rio Arriba jail officials to get their act together in terms of the operation of that facility, that responsible persons involved in this situation also consider this possibility as a matter of simple practicality. If indeed Herrera is experiencing something along the lines of untreated psychosis, it is a matter of human rights, public welfare and safety, that he be provided with reasonable medical care in the context. My concerns are not intended to diminish the significance of the related tragedy, and I mean this in all sincerity. Rather, with the safety of jail staff and the pending legal process in mind, it is necessary that this issue be addressed in full.

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