Officers object to jail policy

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By David Giuliani

The county jail requires that anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs get a medical clearance from the hospital before being locked up — even if a suspect had a couple of beers beforehand.

And the suspect must pick up the costs of an emergency room visit, even if the suspect is later found innocent, the jail’s warden said.

Both city and state police officials contend the policy is unnecessarily burdensome.

“You’re compromising the safety of the entire community by keeping state and city police officers in the emergency room for hours,” Las Vegas Police Chief Gary Gold said. “We’ll never deny anyone the need for medical attention. But if someone doesn’t need it, you shouldn’t force it on someone.”

State police Lt. Craig Martin said his officers have taken some suspects to the Santa Fe County jail to avoid the local procedure. Even with the trip and booking in Santa Fe, the officer can return within two and a half hours, still saving the time of the local emergency room visit, Martin said.

Besides, he said, the county still has to pick up the costs of locking up the suspects in Santa Fe.

Martin said the state police have no problem taking those who are falling-down drunk to the hospital. But he said there is no need to take those who have only drunk a few beers.

He said those who are only slightly intoxicated are a lesser priority for the hospital than those with true emergencies. So officers have to wait hours sometimes until the emergency room staff gets to the suspects, he said.

He said some of the suspects have called the state police, asking about why they were receiving the medical bills.

Warden Patrick Snedeker said the jail is reflecting national standards that anyone under the influence of any drug, including alcohol, should get a clearance at the hospital.

He said Santa Fe County has an infirmary at its jail, so it can handle many medical issues on site. He confirmed that suspects are responsible for any medical costs before the jail receives them, a policy that applies to those later found innocent.

Snedeker said the interested agencies have had a series of meetings about the issue “so we can meet everyone’s needs and expectations.”

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said the jail policy struck him as “overreaching.”

“I don’t know how they can require someone to submit to a medical exam if it has no bearing on the case or on their health and safety,” he said.

He said the policy seems to place “too great a burden” on the arrestee as well as on the “scarce resources” of the police to respond to crimes.