GOODYEAR, AZ – One of the correctional officers that blew the lid off of the malfunctioning doors at Arizona State Prison Complex Lewis was found dead on Sunday, March 10th.
Police are currently treating the case as a suicide, according to reports.
Gabriela Contreras was just 31-years-old when she passed away. A spokesperson for the Goodyear Police Department confirmed that the case is currently being treated as a suicide.
Goodyear police said they are treating the death of 31-year-old Gabriela Contreras as a suicide. https://t.co/O4jexW6Hyl
— 12 News (@12News) March 10, 2020
Contreras was the whistleblower that had leaked footage of prison cell doors that wouldn’t lock within ASPC Lewis.
While having remained anonymous for some time after releasing the shocking footage that showed the faulty doors within the prison in Buckeye, Arizona, she revealed herself in May of 2019 as the person who had leaked the prison surveillance videos.
Back in May of last year, then-Arizona Correctional Sergeant Contreras had released a “whistleblowing disclosure,” alleging that there were more efforts to cover up the faulty prison security.
Contreras stated that ADC staff were directed to “under report the scope” of the prison’s issues with cell doors not locking.
The directive came after an expose was done by the local ABC 15 that showcased video evidence of correctional staff being assaulted, and even an inmate being murdered within his own cell.
#BreakingNews Arizona prison whistleblower Gabriela Contreras found dead at 31
A corrections officer who sparked a statewide investigation into broken cell locks in Arizona prisons was found dead Sunday evening https://t.co/AiLoPwkXwb
— Smirky McSmirkerson 😏 (@WWG_1WGA_) March 11, 2020
Think about that for a second. Staff were being told to ignore safety issues. After seeing video of other C.O.s getting kicked and stomped on by inmates who could open their cell doors as they pleased.
Once Contreras had shown herself to be the one behind downloading and releasing the videos that showed what was going on inside of ASPC Lewis, she was originally suspended for a week.
When she filed notice for a whistleblower retaliation, the Department of Corrections rescinded on her one-week suspension.
Also, when Contreras filed the “whistleblowing disclosure” to Governor Doug Ducey, she explained to Governor Ducey that Deputy Warden Travis Scott had spoken close enough for her to hear and said to other staff members that they intended to fire her.
Let that sink in.
Contreras was doing the right thing by creating awareness to a situation that wasn’t getting fixed. Officials at ASPC Lewis knew there was a problem with the cell doors, for over a year, and it posed a safety issue for staff and inmates alike.
Yet, because she was brave enough to come forward, those complicit in the cover up wanted her gone.
Gabriela Contreras, a corrections officer who leaked videos of broken locks on cell doors, has been found dead. https://t.co/lef2llGdwH
— The Copper Courier (@CopperCourier) March 10, 2020
In her letter to Governor Ducey, she stated:
“I understand the only reason I wasn’t fired is that the Lewis Complex warden is under the impression that your office warned ADC not to retaliate against employees.”
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The correctional sergeant explained in her letter that those who swore they’d get the cell doors fixed weren’t doing anything to remedy the situation:
“Unfortunately, the same people who deliberately ignored Morey security issues are now interfering with your effort to address the situation.”
"Contreras gained notoriety after she downloaded and leaked videos of attacks related to broken locks at Lewis Prison. Contreras said she raised her concerns to superiors, but said her concerns were largely ignored." https://t.co/hc4uBE4okd via @azcentral @perryvandell
— Rebekah L. Sanders 🌵 (@RebekahLSanders) March 10, 2020
According to Contreras, in May of 2019, security staff were told by Deputy Warden Scott to not let any staff leave the prison complex until they falsified paperwork regarding the faulty cell doors within Maury unit.
In the wake of everything getting fleshed out, ADC Director Chuck Ryan wound up resigning from his position during the summer of 2019.
When Contreras revealed her identity, the burning question was “why now,” to which she responded:
“I want them to see me, I did it. I want (staff) not to be afraid and now is the time that they need to be together and make a change. We need to stand up, put our foot down, and say enough is enough.”
Her bravery likely saved the lives of both staff and inmates.
After she revealed herself, the state almost immediately approved the repair and replacement of more than 1,000 cell doors within Lewis complex.
David Shinn took over as the ADC Director after Ryan’s abrupt departure.
With the news breaking of Contreras’ death, having since been promoted to Correctional Officer III before she passed, Director Shinn released the following statement:
“On behalf of the men and women of the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Correctional Officer III Ana Gabriela Contreras, who passed away early this morning. This is a sad day for us all, and tragic loss as she was a valued member of our team.”
Carlos Garcia, the executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, worked closely alongside Contreras when she revealed herself as the whistleblower.
Garcia noted on the valor and integrity behind her motivations:
“She was very courageous. It was her that put her neck and career on the line.”
There’s been no release at this time as to what the cause of death was for Contreras, as that is still pending a review and determination by a medical examiner.
We here at Law Enforcement Today know that what Gabriela Contreras did took the utmost integrity, shining a light on wrongdoing and inaction within the prison.
We’ll keep her loved ones in our prayers, as this must be a difficult time for those who knew her.
She was too young to have passed, and served as the example that all correctional officers should emulate. Rest easy Gabriela Contreras, and know that your work saved lives.