Gap in Utah Department of Corrections policy keeps prisoners’ loved ones in the dark
DRAPER, Utah – Worry and wait is all Lorna Gallegos could do for days after she learned her son was stabbed while serving time in the Utah State Prison in Draper.
“All I was, was a mother looking out to see if my baby was okay,” she said. “To see if he’s alive.”
On Thursday, Feb. 3, Gallegos heard through acquaintances that her son, 22-year-old Guadalupe Cazares, had been seriously injured. But she says she never received an official notification from the Utah Department of Corrections and spent days calling prison officials repeatedly without answers.
“All I wanted was one simple call,” she said, tearfully. “One simple call to hear his voice to tell me he’s okay, because I know he’s not.”
It wasn’t until the following Monday that she says the department confirmed her son was in stable condition. Even then, Gallegos said she received conflicting reports about where he was. Eventually, she says corrections officials told her Cazares had been flown to the University of Utah hospital.
“I’m the person [listed as] next of kin,” she said. “I’m his mom, and I am the person they’re supposed to call.”
NEW TONIGHT: The @KSLInvestigates team has uncovered a gap in Utah Department of Corrections policy that leaves prisoners' loved ones in the dark.
— Daniella Rivera KSL (@DaniellaKSL) February 19, 2022
Gallegos has since spoken to her son, and learned Cazares was stabbed eight times, required surgery, and now has 20 staples across the middle of his chest.
The prison isn’t saying what led up to the violence or who is responsible.
Utah’s Department of Corrections denied a public records request from KSL seeking reports and documentation of the incident and refused to participate in an interview, citing both privacy and security concerns.
Then, the KSL Investigators requested the department’s policy for notifying family when a person in the state’s custody is seriously injured or taken to the hospital. We learned there is no policy.
“We do not have a formal policy regarding notification to family when an incarcerated individual is injured,” Utah Department of Corrections spokesperson Kaitlin Felsted wrote in an email.
Felsted went on to say, “If an incarcerated individual is hospitalized, it is the decision of the medical professionals to decide when communication should be initiated with the family of the individual.”
KSL reached out to the University of Utah Hospital to confirm whether the decision to notify an incarcerated person’s loved ones in the event of a hospitalization rests with medical staff.
A spokesperson wrote in an email, “All communication regarding an incarcerated patient is directed to the prison.”
The KSL Investigators spoke with corrections officials in neighboring states and learned policies in Colorado, Idaho, and Arizona all call for timely notifications to next of kin when an incarcerated person is seriously injured or hospitalized.
One Utah lawmaker says it makes sense for Utah’s prison to put its protocol on paper.
“In 2022, I would expect a family to be notified of a hospitalization,” said Utah Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
Upon learning about the lack of policy regarding family notifications after hospitalizations, Weiler said he planned to encourage Utah’s Department of Corrections to develop one.
“All you have to do is hit a button to send an email or whatever. It’s not like we have to use the Pony Express to notify someone,” he said. “You know, your loved one is in the hospital, obviously they’re in the hospital for a reason, it’s, something serious has happened. To me, that’s a no brainer.”
Cazares was in the prison awaiting trial for felony charges of failing to stop at the command of police and assault against a peace officer with a weapon. According to a probable cause affidavit, an officer with the Weber Morgan Narcotics Strike Force identified Cazares as a federal fugitive while he was driving near 21st Street and Orchard Avenue in Ogden in September 2021. Cazares is accused of backing his vehicle into an unmarked police car and speeding away. His next appearance in state court is set for March 9.
Federal court records show he pleaded guilty to one count of possession of firearms and ammunition by a restricted person in September of 2020 and was sentenced to time served.
Cazares’ family says he made bad choices and he’ll serve his time, but violence isn’t part of any sentence, and his loved ones deserve to know if he’s hurt.
“And definitely not wait until the person is fighting for their life or in the hospital and still not say nothing about it, because that’s not fair to us parents,” said Gallegos. “They wouldn’t like it if someone didn’t tell them their son or daughter was stabbed or shot, and you have no idea till a week later. It’s not fair.”
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.
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