Ana Gabriela “Gaby” Contreras, 31, the Arizona corrections department whistleblower who leaked videos of broken cell locks inside a state prison was found dead on Sunday at 11:30 p.m., ABC 15 reports. The Goodyear Police Department is reportedly treating it like a suicide but the exact cause of her death will be determined by the medical examiner.
The videos she leaked showed major safety issues at Lewis Prison in Buckeye, Maricopa County including cells doors that weren’t locking and inmates attacking officers. The videos, which were from 2018 but leaked last year, show an inmate attacking a security officer repeatedly and later a group of inmates emerging from the lower level.
Contreras leaked the videos after nothing was being done to ensure people’s safety. “It was very unsafe for everybody,” she said at the time adding that “this isn’t something new” after alleging that then-director of the Department of Corrections knew what was going on, AZFamily reports.
“I want them to see me, I did it,” Contreras told ABC15 in a May 2019 interview after coming forward. “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.”
The evidence prompted an outside investigation launched by the Governor’s Office leading to the repair and replacement of more than 1,000 cell doors and the abrupt retirement of the director, Charles Ryan. However, after coming forward Contreras did share that her deputy tried to intimidate her by saying she was a criminal and they would press charges against her. She was not disciplined but she spoke out about concerns about her future: “I would say my career is gonna be very limited on what I can do in the department,” she said.
After the announcement of her death, Carlos Garcia, executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association called called her “courageous” and said she’d put her career on the line after coming forward, ABC15 reports. Though it clearly took a toll on her life and career, Contreras stood by her decision to leak the footage in order to make a change and she encouraged others in her field to do the same.
“It’s not going to be an easy ride, of course. It comes with a lot of stress, but I think it would be more stressful to live with lives on your conscience than it would to just speak up and… at least try to protect some people.”
Contreras is survived by her child, according to a GoFundMe launched by a close family friend to help with the funeral costs.