Inmate’s death under investigation at federal prison in Atwater

A 25-year-old inmate at United States Penitentiary, Atwater, died late Sunday after he was found “unresponsive” in the prison and was rushed to a local hospital, prison staff reported.

A terse news release issued Monday afternoon provided few details in the death of Raul Ortega, described as a 25-year-old man serving an 18-year stretch in the federal prison for carjacking and firearm use.

Prison officials said Ortega was found by prison staff around 9:15 p.m. Sunday. Officials described him as “unresponsive” and said “life-saving measures” were taken but Ortega was pronounced dead around 10 p.m. by hospital staff.

Authorities did not comment on any possible cause of death and did not say whether any violence was reported at the prison on Sunday. A prison official did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment on Monday.

Officials said the FBI was notified and the death remained under investigation.

Ortega had been in custody in Atwater since October of last year.

According to a 2014 news release from the FBI, Ortega was one of two men involved in a violent month-long crime spree in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.

Ortega pleaded guilty in 2014 in connection with at least two carjackings in January 2013. Ortega also was described as a suspect in a home-invasion robbery on Jan. 13, 2013, in which he and his codefendant, Robert Meeks, forced their way into a home, beat the resident and tied him up before stealing credit and bank cards.

According to the FBI, Ortega and Meeks forced the homeowner to tell them the PIN number on the bank card and then stole the man’s car, threatening to kill him if “he screamed or called the police.”