Lawyers say MDC could not find detainees for hearings, meetings

Metropolitan Detention Center. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

On Thursday, one of Ryan Villa’s clients was due to appear for a remand hearing – by way of a tablet in a county jail room.

Instead, the defense attorney was told his client was nowhere to be found in the jail. The hearing could not take place.

And Villa said three other defendants who were supposed to be in court were also missing.

While he’s not sure exactly what the problem is, Villa suspects it has something to do with the ransomware attack on Bernalillo County earlier this month. The attack meant officials were unable to access prison cameras for some time, and inmates were detained and had less access to phones and tablets.

“I guess because they were going into their computer and looking up where they were, and I guess it didn’t work or it didn’t work (Thursday),” Villa said. “I don’t know how they keep track of where people are now – if it’s on paper or what – but it’s pretty important for basic things like medicine and going to court and seeing your attorney.”

Neither the head of the prison nor the director of administrative services was available for an interview on the problem described by Villa and others.

Instead, a county spokeswoman wrote in an email that no one got lost in the system.

“There were a few instances where offenders entered the facility using various aliases and it took a bit longer to sort out their identities, due to the paperwork procedures related to the ransomware situation,” wrote spokeswoman Tia Bland. “The prison expects a return to electronic records next week.”

Villa is one of many lawyers who recently shared this experience.

Matthew Chavez, the judicial district attorney for the 2nd Judicial District, said public defenders had talked to him about going to jail or going to court hearings only to be told the client was nowhere to be found.

As of mid-November, the prison had a vacancy rate of 31%, and Chavez said he believed the prison’s chronic understaffing had contributed to the problem caused by the ransomware attack.

He said the situation seriously harms the defendants and deprives them of their constitutional rights.

“If an accused is not brought to court for his hearing, he is unable to exercise his constitutional rights to due process and have his case heard and have his case dealt with in a timely manner,” Chávez said.

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