Jail director, health administrator under investigation

Karen De La Roche, Taos County's jail director of less than five months, and Tammy Jaramillo, the county's health care assistance program director, are under internal investigation with Taos County, but the nature of the investigations are unknown. Jaramillo is also being looked at in a separate criminal investigation that has been referred to the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office for review. Katharine Egli/Taos News

Taos County's jail director of less than five months and its health care assistance program director are under investigation and have been placed on administrative leave, with the latter also the subject of a separate criminal investigation.

County attorney Randy Autio confirmed this week that investigations opened against Karen De La Roche, who was hired in February as the jail's full-time director after its former director was fired amid allegations that jailers were trafficking drugs to detainees, and Tammy Jaramillo, who handles health care assistance programs for detainees and is also the wife of county manager Brent Jaramillo.

Referencing "confidentiality of personnel proceedings," Autio said he could not comment regarding the nature of the investigations, but said they are related. While an internal investigation has opened against Jaramillo at the county, a second investigation alleging extortion and criminal misconduct has opened at the Taos County Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said his office and 8th Judicial District Attorney Marcus Montoya have been apprised of the allegations against Jaramillo, who also serves as a member of the Questa School Board, but he could not provide further details. Hogrefe said he was unaware of any criminal allegations that have been made against De La Roche.

Speaking via phone on Wednesday (June 10), Jaramillo said she had not been made aware of any criminal investigation through her attorney, but said she had filed complaints of her own with the county prior to being placed on administrative leave.

"I'll just say that I have several very serious complaints of a hostile work environment, including HIPAA violations and health and safety violations," Jaramillo said. "I don't want anything to be tainted and I do think that the investigation at the end of the day will definitely favor what I have alleged."

She said she was shocked to hear about a separate criminal investigation, but this is the second time in less than a year that she has been accused of criminal wrongdoing.

In October, The Questa School Board voted to ask the New Mexico Attorney General and state auditor to investigate Jaramillo and her husband for allegations of bribery and misconduct, alleging they had given money to another board member, Ellis Garcia, with the condition that Garcia cast his vote in favor of keeping the dilapidated Río Costilla Learning Academy open. Jaramillo and her husband, however, denied the accusations and the AG did not pursue the investigation.

Given that Jaramillo is a county employee, Montoya said his office may be transferring the case to another judicial district for review, though he did not know which one. The investigation remains in the preliminary stages, he and Hogrefe indicated.

"Any disposition of a case must not only be proper, but must also maintain the appearance of propriety," Montoya said.

Asked how the two investigations might relate, Jaramillo repeated the complaints she had filed with the county, but did not say whether they had been made against De La Roche, specifically.

De La Roche was hired two years after Nelson Abeyta, a longtime jail administrator, was fired when two of his employees, Phillip Ortiz and Dominic Torrez, were charged with trafficking drugs to detainees. The 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office eventually dismissed the cases without prejudice, however, and said pending cases against potential witnesses, who were being held at the jail during the alleged crimes, would have to be resolved first. For safety reasons, the witnesses were never named publicly, and the status of the dismissed cases filed against the jailers remains unknown.

The family of Jonathan Bourg, a detainee who died of a fatal heroin dose that was smuggled into the jail in 2016, sued the Taos County Board of Commissioners for allegedly failing to stem the flow of drugs into the jail, but the county succeeded in having the motion dismissed with prejudice in 2019. Public court records don't indicate whether a settlement of any kind was ever reached.

Brent Jaramillo said in January that the investigation into drug trafficking in the jail was still active, but he has otherwise deferred to the Taos County Sheriff's Office and district attorney.

De La Roche did not respond to an email request for comment as of press time.

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