Lawsuit: Guards beat, taunt inmate with, ‘You can’t breathe’

Apr 12, 2023, 11:20 AM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Advocates for prisoners’ rights have filed a civil rights lawsuit against state corrections officers who allegedly ignored requirements that they videotape a prison-cell encounter with an inmate who says he was sexually abused, beaten without provocation and taunted with words that evoked the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

The New Mexico Prison & Jail Project filed the civil lawsuit Tuesday seeking damages in U.S. District Court on behalf of a Black inmate against five state Corrections Department officers, in connection with an April 2021 confrontation at the Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton.

The advocacy group reconstructed events from the testimony of the plaintiff and other inmate witnesses, along with unredacted portions of an internal investigation by the Correction Department’s Office of Professional Conduct.

Officers told investigators that the inmate was restrained physically and with pepper spray after swinging an elbow at an officer. They denied the inmate’s account of abuses.

Several of the officers acknowledged to Corrections Department investigators that a video camera should have been used inside the cell.

“Its use could have prevented questions, provided answers and the truth would have come out,” one officer told investigators.

Prison & Jail Project Director Steven Robert Allen said video recordings were required because the use of force by corrections officers was planned and not reactive. A copy of agency policy was not immediately available.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Carmelina Hart said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. She said four corrections officers out of five in the complaint still work at the agency.

The lawsuit alleges that corrections officers retaliated against the plaintiff after he spoke out earlier in support of another inmate who was surrounded by officers. Those events also are chronicled in a separate 2022 lawsuit alleging battery and sexual abuse by corrections officers against another inmate.

The new lawsuit says at least five corrections officers and a manager later entered the plaintiff’s cell and ordered a cellmate to leave.

The lawsuit alleges that one officer pushed his crotch up against the plaintiff’s backside. It says the plaintiff objected and wasn’t provoked into retaliating, but he was thrown to the ground and beaten.

The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff was face-down on the ground, when a corrections officer placed a foot on his back and said, “Let me guess, you can’t breathe.”

Attorneys for the Prison & Jail Project say that the date of the encounter on April 15, 2021, corresponded with the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin for pinning George Floyd to the pavement with his knee on the Black man’s neck in a case that triggered worldwide protests and a reexamination of racism and policing in the U.S.

Chauvin was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges on April 20, 2021. The centerpiece of the case was the excruciating bystander video of Floyd gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe.”

The inmate in New Mexico “thought he was going to die, and why wouldn’t he?” Allen said. “That kind of terrorizing of a Black prisoner in a prison here in New Mexico is completely unacceptable.”

The lawsuit alleges battery, cruel and unusual punishment and violations of free speech rights, seeking unspecified compensation.

The inmate initially filed an administrative complaint under provisions of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It is unclear whether officers were disciplined. No criminal charges have been filed. The inmate is serving a sentence after pleading guilty to armed robbery in 2016.

United States News

Tracy Wodatch, from Connecticut Association for Healthcare at Home, places a candle next to a photo...

Associated Press

A nurse’s fatal last visit to patient’s home renews calls for better safety measures

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (AP) — The killing of a Connecticut nurse making a house call in October was a nightmare come true for an industry gripped by the fear of violence. Already stressed out by staffing shortages and mounting caseloads, heath care workers are increasingly worrying about the possibility of a patient becoming violent – a […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Vegas shooter who killed 3 was a professor who recently applied for a job at UNLV, AP source says

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Terrified students and professors cowered in classrooms and dorms as a gunman roamed the floors of a University of Nevada, Las Vegas building, killing three people and critically wounding a fourth before dying in a shootout with police. The gunman in Wednesday’s shooting was a professor who had unsuccessfully sought a […]

4 hours ago

Part of a square-mile section of state land in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park is seen, Oct. 5,...

Associated Press

Wyoming may auction off huge piece of pristine land inside Grand Teton

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Off and on for over a decade, Wyoming leaders have threatened to auction off large chunks of pristine, state-owned parcels of land within Grand Teton National Park to the highest-bidding developer to prod the U.S. government to step in and pay millions to conserve the properties. On Thursday, they might make […]

4 hours ago

An eight-week-old sea otter rescued from Seldovia, Alaska, peaks out of his enclosure at Shedd Aqua...

Associated Press

A sea otter pup found alone in Alaska has a new home at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium

CHICAGO (AP) — An eight-week-old arrival from Alaska chirps loudly before devouring ice chips in the nursery at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. He is Pup EL2306 — proper name to be determined — a northern sea otter who was found alone and malnourished in the remote town of Seldovia in October and taken to the Alaska […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Actor Cillian Murphy poses at the "Oppenheimer" premiere, July 13, 2023, in London. Some of ...

Associated Press

From SZA to the Stone of Scone, the words that help tell the story of 2023 were often mispronounced

Some of the words tied to this year’s hottest topics were also among the most mangled when it came to saying them aloud, with stumpers ranging from the first name of “Oppenheimer” star Cillian Murphy to the singer SZA to the name of a sacred slab of sandstone used in the coronation of King Charles […]

4 hours ago

FILE - Actor Cillian Murphy poses at the "Oppenheimer" premiere, July 13, 2023, in London. Some of ...

Sponsored Content by

Some of the words tied to this year’s hottest topics were also among the most mangled when it came to saying them aloud, with stumpers ranging from the first name of “Oppenheimer” star Cillian Murphy to the singer SZA to the name of a sacred slab of sandstone used in the coronation of King Charles […]

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Follow @KTAR923...

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University: innovating Arizona health care education

Midwestern University’s Glendale Campus near Loop 101 and 59th Avenue is an established leader in health care education and one of Arizona’s largest and most valuable health care resources.

Lawsuit: Guards beat, taunt inmate with, ‘You can’t breathe’