New Mexico county sees more lawsuits on inmate abuse claims

New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico county involved in one of the largest prisoner civil rights settlements in U.S. history is facing more federal lawsuits over its treatment of inmates in its jail.

Attorney Matt Coyte recently filed two lawsuits in U.S. District Court on behalf of inmates who allege mistreatment and abuse at the Doña Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

According to a lawsuit filed Monday, Susan Hylton, now 42, was placed in solitary confinement after she requested to report sexual and physical abuse. Hylton made the request after correctional officers ordered her to strip during a search for drugs, the lawsuit said.

Court documents said the guards ordered Hylton to remove a feminine hygiene product despite male guards walking near the search and in view. “Susan felt humiliated knowing male officers were able to hear her as she was instructed to remove her tampon” and other embarrassing tasks while naked, the lawsuit said.

When Hylton requested to speak to a coordinator to report sexual abuse, a female guard asked her, “Can’t we just work this out?” and placed her in solitary confinement, court documents said.

The lawsuit said Hylton spent 85 days in confinement and “received burnt food for every meal” in retaliation and lost 20 pounds (9 kilograms), the lawsuit said.

Hylton also had to endure a cell with no hot water and ran out of toilet paper despite complaints, court documents alleged.

Another lawsuit filed in June alleged that jail staff failed to give proper medical attention to inmate Antonio Reali, now 55, of Coarsegold, California, who later suffered a heart attack.

Reali had been extradited to New Mexico on drug charges and previously had a heart condition, documents said. But the lawsuit said staff failed to take Reali immediately to the hospital when he fell and reported severe chest pains.

Staff even laughed and joked while Reali remained unattended on a medial table after suffering a seizure and losing consciousness, the lawsuit said.

The Reali lawsuit also names Corizon Health — one of the nation’s largest for-profit medical providers for prisons and jails. The company faces several lawsuits nationwide over allegations of inadequate medical care.

Hylton and Reali are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Kelly Jameson, a spokeswoman for Doña Ana County, said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

Corizon Health spokeswoman Eve Hutcherson said she was unfamiliar with the Reali lawsuit.

In 2013, Dona Ana County reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case involving a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial. The inmate, Stephen Slevin, took out his own tooth during his confinement, according to the lawsuit. It was one of the largest prisoner civil rights awards in U.S. history.

Coyte represented Slevin.

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