PHOENIX — An Arizona corrections department whistleblower, who leaked videos exposing broken cell locks inside a state prison, died on Sunday night.
Gabriela Contreras was 31 years old.
A Goodyear Police Department spokesperson confirmed Contreras’s death and said the case was being treated as a suicide.
“She was very courageous,” said Carlos Garcia, executive director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association. “It was her that put her neck and career on the line.”
Garcia worked closely with Contreras last year after she leaked multiple surveillance videos that showed how many cell doors inside Lewis prison didn’t properly lock.
Shortly after ABC15 aired the videos in a series of investigative reports, Contreras decided to reveal herself and speak out further.
“I want them to see me, I did it,” Contreras told ABC15 in a May 2019 interview. “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 videos leaked by Contreras were indisputable proof of the chaos and dysfunction inside the prison. Multiple officers and inmates have been hurt and killed as a result of the broken locks.
The evidence prompted the Governor’s Office to launch an outside investigation and led to unprecedented change.
Her decision to leak the videos and publicly speak about the dangers will ultimately save lives.
In addition to the state almost immediately approving the repair and replacement of more than 1,000 cell doors, the prison system’s long-time director, Charles Ryan, abruptly retired in summer.
David Shinn has since taken over the department, which has since undergone a name change and rebranding.
The new director issued 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."
Contreras’s immediate family could not be reached for comment. Police confirmed to ABC15 that her next of kin were notified.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help with funeral expenses.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.