Prison whistleblower who exposed unsafe conditions in Arizona facility, found dead

(BUCKEYE, Ariz.) — An Arizona correctional sergeant who blew the whistle on corruption and unsafe conditions inside a jail facility was found dead in an apparent suicide, officials confirmed to ABC News.

Gabriela Contreras risked her position at the former Lewis Corrections Department in Buckeye last April when she leaked surveillance videos that revealed multiple jail units had cell doors that did not lock properly.

Contreras initially turned over the videos and altered documentation regarding the broken locks anonymously, but came forward in an exclusive interview with ABC15 a month later.

The whistleblower was suspended for a week when she was caught downloading the videos.

“I had enough,” Contreras said during the May 2019 interview when asked why she downloaded and leaked the footage. “Because it’s a crime, what they were doing: allowing this to happen, allowing staff to get hurt, and not doing anything about it.”

Contreras also wrote to Gov. Doug Ducey on May 15, 2019 after his office launched an investigation. The jail staffers were asked by the governor’s office to make comprehensive reports about each broken cell door, but were forced to make modifications to those documents by their superior.

“The deputy warden was outraged that we reported all of the deficiencies we found,” Contreras wrote. “He told us that we were only to count the cell doors that opened on their own when the padlock was removed — and that we should not have included cell doors that opened with a slight juggle or push or be caused to register an Unauthorized Access alert on the computer on this report.”

Contreras warned the governor that the deputy warden was trying to minimize or “present his office with false and/or misleading information and falsifying public records,” she wrote.

Because of Contreras’ fight, over 1,000 cell doors were repaired and replaced, the prison took on new leadership and was renamed the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry.

During the late evening of March 8, Goodyear Police Department responded to a “domestic disturbance” call at Contreras’ home. When the officers entered her residence, Contreras was in her bedroom “unresponsive, with an apparent self-inflicted gun-shot wound,” according to a spokeswoman with the police department.

Despite “lifesaving measures” taken, Contreras was pronounced dead at the scene.

“The Goodyear Police Department considers this a suicide and next of kin has been notified,” the spokeswoman said.

The Maricopa County’s Medical Examiner’s office ruled Contreras’ manner of death as a suicide caused by a “gunshot wound of head,” according to online records.

“Our beloved friend Gabriela Contreras was taken too soon … a loving and caring mother, daughter, and friend. A passionate person who was not afraid to stand for what she believed in,” wrote a family friend on an online funeral fundraiser page.

Attempts to reach the family of Contreras were not successful on Wednesday.

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