Curry County jail inmate dies after swallowing meth

By Darrell Todd Maurina

An inmate at the Curry County Adult Detention Facility died early Sunday morning at Plains Regional Medical Center after swallowing methamphetamine, according to a report released Tuesday by the Clovis Police Department.
Martin Smith, 22, of Clovis, is the second inmate in less than a year to die of a drug overdose while in custody of Curry County law officers. Last May 15, Joyce Acy died after ingesting crack cocaine.
Unlike the Acy incident, Smith didn’t show indicators of drug use when arrested, according to jail administrator Don Burdine.
“This is an unusual incident,” said Burdine. “This young man had no previous history of drug charges, he was not brought in on a drug charge. From what I can tell, there were absolutely no indicators that he had any kind of red flag.”
Burdine said Smith was arrested on charges of reckless driving and evading a police officer, and when brought to the jail at 10:47 p.m. Saturday night, initially denied using any illegal substances.
“On a visual inspection he did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” said Burdine. “The first indication we had that there was any kind of problem was (4:18 a.m. Sunday morning) at which time Mr. Smith contacted one of my detention officers and advised them that he had swallowed some substance and asked her to keep an eye on him.”
Clovis police dispatched an officer who arrived at 4:30 a.m. According to the police report, Officer Bart Phillips “almost immediately upon arrival” requested an ambulance, which arrived at 4:36 a.m. and brought Smith to the hospital at 4:47 a.m.
By the time Smith arrived at the hospital, he was showing clear signs of drug usage, according to a report by Officer Shawn Gore.
“Smith was brought in and I immediately observed that he was showing signs of extreme anxiety and agitation,” wrote Gore. “Smith’s demeanor, in my training and experience, was consistent with that of an individual who was under the influence of methamphetamines.”
Despite being brought to the emergency room, Smith resisted treatment, Gore said.
“Smith continuously moved around in an exaggerated manner and myself, other officers, and medical personnel had to physically restrain Smith,” wrote Gore. “While I was assisting the ER personnel in restraining Smith for treatment, I heard one of the nurses ask Smith what he had ingested. He immediately stated that he couldn’t tell because there were ‘cops’ there. Smith was asked again and told that they needed to know for treatment purposes. Smith then stated that he had swallowed ‘crank.’”
“Crank is a common street name for the illegal drug methamphetamine,” wrote Gore. “Smith stated that he swallowed the ‘crank’ because he did not want to go to prison.”
Smith never returned to the Curry County Adult Detention Facility. An emergency room doctor pronounced him dead at 6:40 a.m. Sunday
Burdine said jail officers followed standard operating procedures in the case, which he said have not been changed since Acy’s death. In Acy’s case, her estate sued the county and other public entities alleging that “gross negligence” by jail officials in failing to promptly treat her may have contributed to her death. The case has since been settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Burdine noted that medical assistance was requested within minutes of Smith asking that his condition be monitored.
“Other than sending them for medical care when there is an indication of something, I don’t know what more you can do,” said Burdine.
“You can’t read their minds. If they identify that they are under the influence, they of course are maintained in a visual observation area, and they are checked for a lot of things,” said Burdine. “If a person is brought in for an arrest and shows signs, we will not accept them until they are brought into the hospital and are medically cleared, but of course, there was no indication of anything like that in this case.”
Burdine said detention officers are trained to identify some signs of drug use, but the indicators aren’t foolproof.
“There are physical signs that are indicative (such as) highly nervous actions, fast responses in speech, the eyes can become more dilated than normal, but those same symptoms can be brought on by simply the anxiety of someone coming to jail who is not used to coming to jail,” said Burdine.
“As long as people are willing to swallow these bags of drugs to avoid being caught with them, there is always a danger,” said Burdine.