A lawsuit from a Valencia County man says his civil rights were violated when a group of Valencia County Jail employees beat him with excessive force in March. The man, Marvin Silva, received level two trauma care at University of New Mexico Hospital due to his injuries, according to the complaint and a copy of Silva’s medical records. He suffered a collapsed lung, a lacerated spleen and a fractured rib, his medical records state. According to the complaint, a Valencia County Jail employee took Silva into a holding cell with no security cameras and asked him to undress as part of his intake into the jail. Silva was wearing a mask, which he kept on but otherwise undressed as ordered, the complaint states.
A former inmate is suing the New Mexico Corrections Department and some of its employees for allegedly endangering the man’s life while transporting him and others in an unair-conditioned vehicle in 2019. Lawrence Lamb, 61, filed the suit last week in Santa Fe state district court. The suit alleges that on June 21, 2019 Corrections Department officers loaded him and seven other inmates into a transport van to carry them 300 miles from the Los Lunas-based Central New Mexico Correctional Facility to the Clayton-based Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility. Due to a high-rate of speed, sometimes as much as 90 miles an hour, the rear passenger tire blew out and a metal object blew through the plywood floor and struck Lamb in the leg, the complaint states. Lamb’s lawyer, Steven Allen, the director of New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, said getting hit with a bolt was “the least of his concerns” after what allegedly came next.
Many incarcerated women, often already traumatized from gender violence, potentially face re-traumatization once imprisoned in New Mexico through inhumane conditions and sexual assault, according to attorneys. Lalita Moskowitz, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said the inhumane conditions run the gamut in New Mexico prisons—from infestations of rodents and freezing conditions at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility outside of Grants to infrastructure that is “completely falling apart” and inadequate reproductive health care at Springer Correctional Center in the small northern town of Springer. She said the two New Mexico women’s correctional facilities are “some of the oldest (correctional) buildings in the state.”
There have also been numerous sexual assault allegations at both facilities, Moskowitz said, and several sexual assault lawsuits. Steve Allen, director of the nonprofit New Mexico Prison and Jail Project, called the sexual abuse at Springer, “systemic.”
Many of the women housed in New Mexico’s correctional facilities are nonviolent offenders. Allen said that many women who are housed in WNMCF, which is a medium-level security facility, are “overclassified,” which means the inmates are put into a higher security prison than they need to be.
A new, local non-profit organization aiming to advocate for the civil rights of those incarcerated in New Mexico launched Thursday and announced a lawsuit against the New Mexico Corrections Department.
The New Mexico Prison and Jails Project announced that it filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the state Corrections Department of violating the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
Steven Robert Allen, formerly a policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, is the project’s director. He said the group’s first lawsuit stemmed from an inquiry to find out more about how the Corrections Department procedurally handles records requests.
“I think it’s particularly ironic that we have this lawsuit against the Corrections Department for violating IPRA because all we were doing was asking them for their policies and practices for what they’re doing to comply with IPRA,” Allen said.
Some of the group’s steering committee was present at a virtual news conference announcing the formation of the group and its first lawsuit. Albuquerque-based civil rights attorney Matthew Coyte is one of those steering committee members and said on Thursday that one of the goals of the project is to offer representation in civil rights cases where there is normally a dearth of available lawyers.
“This project, the PJP, is designed to fill that gap, to fill that void and to create an an environment where we can bring multiple lawsuits against the prison or jail system to create change, to bring publicity,” Coyte said.
The IPRA lawsuit the PJP filed this week argued that the response by the Department of Corrections to the project’s records requests “were so fundamentally inadequate and unreasonable that they are the equivalent of not responding to the [records request] at all.”
Coyte said getting adequate records from prisons and jails is key to making sure inmates and detainees are being treated fairly and properly.
“I think everyone knows that prisons and jails are secretive places. The public doesn’t really have an awareness of what happens behind the closed doors of the prison and jail,” Coyte said. “And thus abuse is allowed to occur without great check or balance on things because the public eye isn’t there.”
The suit alleges that an attempt to obtain records regarding legal complaints filed against Corrections for violating IPRA as well as communications about IPRA policy changes, ended with deflections by department officials who cited various parts of statute and records law exemptions.