Joleen Nez, a Native American woman who was cited for the petty misdemeanor of public littering in 2020, was pronounced dead on Jan. 31 as a result of the toxic effects of methamphetamine according to an autopsy report filed by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

As reported in the Daily Lobo in February, Nez was cited in April of last year after she kicked over a cup and bowl at the intersection of Texas Street and Zuni Road and refused to pick up and throw away the cup — although she did throw away the bowl — according to the criminal complaint completed by Officer Preston Panana. Body camera footage shows an officer giving Nez the citation at the intersection after a verbal altercation with another individual that four officers witnessed.

According to data from the city, Nez's case was part of the 34% of cases from 2020 where officers only cited a person for littering on public property and no other crimes. Most of the citations involved criminal complaints about people dropping lit cigarettes or cups on the ground, like Nez did, and refusing to pick them up. 



Nez did not receive the summons to appear in court and consequently had a bench warrant for her arrest, which put her into Metropolitan Detention Center custody on January 29. Her case was dismissed without prejudice by a nolle prosequi the following day. 

While Nez was waiting for her release, she was found unresponsive by another inmate at approximately 11:44 a.m. on Jan. 30. Nez was responsive earlier in the morning when she appeared to be throwing up as seen from security camera footage inside the jail. After the inmate reported her unresponsive, MDC officers responded by performing CPR for about half an hour until paramedics arrived on the scene and quickly occupied the open area inside the jail where Nez slept on a mattress on the floor with other inmates. 

First responders on the scene quickly transitioned to using an automatic CPR device on Nez  for about 15 minutes until approximately 12:30 a.m. when they wheeled her out on a stretcher to be transported via ambulance to the University of New Mexico Hospital. Due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the specific measures of care that were  provided at UNMH is unclear; but, according to the autopsy, she was pronounced dead at 7:18 a.m. on Jan. 31.

Several notable events happened after Nez’s death. In April, Centurion Detention Health Services, Bernalillo’s correctional healthcare provider, announced they would be terminating their contract in October — more than a year before the end of the contract’s term. An article from the Albuquerque Journal reported that Bernalillo County Manager Julie Morgas Baca “said that in early April the county ‘expressed concern to Centurion over staff vacancies and continuity of care’ and asked the company to respond to those specific concerns.”

This followed reports that nine other people had died in MDC over the past year, with most deaths relating to the effects caused by detoxing from drugs or alcohol, according to the Journal.

A vigil was held for Nez on May 5 on the stairs in front of the Albuquerque Police Department, illustrating how the community is still reeling from the loss of yet another Indigenous woman, someone who was a mother to multiple children and cared for by many.

Cheyenne Antonio, who was part of the group that organized the event, led the vigil to honor Nez and recognize the significance that May 5 holds as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls — a day to bring awareness to this often-underreported issue.

“Joleen Nez is a relative, is a mother, an auntie, a sister; she’s someone … we demand a full investigation and accountability of APD and MDC and medical personnel who were involved in overpolicing practices and neglect,” Antonio said at the vigil.

Gabriel Biadora is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @gabrielbiadora

Shelby Kleinhans is the multimedia editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at multimedia@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99