A Ranchos de Taos man taken into custody Wednesday (March 14) after allegedly threatening to harm himself and law enforcement was denied admittance to a state-run behavioral health clinic in Las Vegas because he did not "meet their criteria," according to the Taos County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said 35-year-old Richard Baca’s rejection from New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas Thursday left his office with a difficult decision to make – “release him or file charges.”
Ultimately, Hogrefe ordered deputies to incarcerate Baca at the Taos County Adult Detention Center, where Baca was charged with resisting arrest and negligent use of a deadly weapon. That decision, Hogrefe said, was made in the best interest of “Mr. Baca and our community.”
Jail Director Nelson Abeyta said Baca met with medical staff upon his arrival at the detention center. They monitored Baca every 15 minutes until a mental health professional, contracted through Correctional Health Partners, determined that it was safe to suspend the monitoring protocol.
According to a statement from Hogrefe, incarceration was the next best solution, but he felt that Baca should have been admitted to the behavioral health center in Las Vegas, a facility run through the New Mexico Department of Health.
Paul Rhien, the health department's communications director, said on Friday that his department could not comment on any specific case due to "patient privacy laws." He did, however, explain the general procedure state-run health facilities follow when they receive a referral.
“State mental health laws require that a mental health facility assess if a person, as a result of a mental illness is more likely than not in the near future to harm themselves or others, and whether immediate detention is necessary to prevent such harm,” Rhien said. “If they do not meet that criteria a person cannot be detained. If the patient has been previously seen at another facility and has stabilized, that may also impact their clinical presentation.”
Hogrefe expressed dismay at the center’s decision following Wednesday's incident, which evolved into a tense standoff at a neighborhood south of Taos.
With support from New Mexico State Police and Taos Tribal Police, deputies responded to the residence on West Romero Road in Ranchos de Taos around 7:20 p.m. According to a call received by Taos Central Dispatch, Baca had allegedly armed himself with a weapon and was threatening to harm himself.
Deputy Sylvia Trujillo-Chacon, a trained crisis negotiator, made contact with Baca and determined that he was in the midst of a “mental health crisis.”
Over the next two hours, Trujillo-Chacon “exhausted all measures to calm [Baca] and gain voluntary compliance,” Hogrefe said. Deputies then entered the home, took Baca into custody and transported him to Holy Cross Hospital, where staff referred him to the behavioral health center in Las Vegas.
Deputies drove Baca two hours south of Taos, expecting he would be admitted, only to be turned away.
Hogrefe emphasized that his office and Holy Cross staff took every step possible to connect Baca with the help they felt he needed.
"I'm disappointed that BHI refused to accept Mr. Baca,” Hogrefe said. “In my mind I believe he needs [a] behavioral/mental health screening and assistance and I was willing to forgo charges for the time being, so he could get that help. Since that failed, the only alternative was to file charges so the attorneys and judge(s) can evaluate what is in the best interest of Mr. Baca and our community.”