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Valentin B. Martinez, 1932-2013: Honored corrections officer survived 1980 prison riot

Died July 4 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease

By Steve Terrell
The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, NM — Valentin B. Martinez, a former Penitentiary of New Mexico corrections officer who hid under a crawl space beneath the gas chamber during the bloody 1980 prison riot, will be laid to rest Tuesday, July 16.

Martinez, who moved from Taos to Santa Fe in 1968 to start work at the prison, died July 4 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.

His daughter, Cathy Martinez, on Monday recalled how she used to see her dad going to work every day. “He was tall with broad shoulders,” she said. But after the riot — in which 33 inmates were slaughtered by other prisoners and 15 corrections officers were held captive — Valentin Martinez changed, his daughter said.

“His shoulders were slumped,” she said. “He’d shrunk.”

Valentin Martinez and another veteran guard, Antonio Vigil, took refuge from the rampaging in the dirty crawl space beneath the prison’s gas chamber as inmates overran the prison in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 1980.

While some guards were beaten and abused by inmates, the prisoners never discovered the hiding place of Martinez and Vigil. “They stayed there for 36 hours,” Cathy Martinez said.

And for that time, the Martinez family didn’t know whether Valentin was dead or alive. “We couldn’t get any information about him at all,” Cathy Martinez said.

She said the family initially found out about the riot when her uncle, Valentin Martinez’s brother, heard a report on the radio that morning.

Valentin Martinez was one of the last two corrections officers to be freed after police took control of the penitentiary, his daughter said.

In the aftermath of the riot, the guards who were on duty were not allowed to go back to work because of the trauma they suffered, Cathy Martinez said.

Within a year, Valentin Martinez suffered two heart attacks, his daughter said.

Her father never talked about the riot. Once, when she asked him a question about it, he got angry, she said. “So we never pressed him on it.”

But Valentin Martinez and the other corrections officers who survived the riot were honored a few months later by then-Gov. Bruce King.

And earlier this year, Valentin Martinez was present when Gov. Susana Martinez and Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel presented Medals of Honor and Medals of Valor to the officers (or the families of deceased officers) in a ceremony at the Capitol.

“These men are examples for all of us today in the Corrections Department. Their sense of duty remained unwavering in even the most unspeakable moments of their lives and careers,” Marcantel said.

Valentin Martinez is survived by his wife of 58 years, Angelina Martinez, and children: Michael Martinez, Christine Rivera, Lawrence Martinez, Richard Martinez, Cathy Martinez, David Martinez, Valerie Martinez and Steven Martinez, all of Santa Fe; grandchildren; and several great grandchildren.

A rosary will be recited at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at St. Anne Parish. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Anne Parish. Burial will follow at at 2:15 p.m. at Santa Fe National Cemetery.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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