New Mexico inmates outline abuse in civil rights lawsuit

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 14 inmates say they had their rights violated after being transported to the prison in Los Lunas, according to a new lawsuit. The alleged abuse happened on two separate days in 2020.

"In an act that really could not be believed if it were not reported by so many people so consistently," said Matthew Coyte, civil rights attorney.

The inmates claimed they were ordered to look at the floor, strip-searched, and then verbally abused with sexually-degrading language. Then they had their heads forcibly shaved. Some men described the correction officers cutting into their scalps and said they were beaten when they attempted to look at the correction officers.

"Unfortunately, the allegations in our complaint are not unique in any way," said Steven Allen with the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project. "This type of thing is happening regularly."

The alleged abuse comes around a decade after an infamous scandal at the Los Lunas prison. A lawsuit filed in 2011 claimed inmates were forced to strip and line up, sitting down for hours in a way where inmates were forced to place their genitals on the next inmate’s rear end. That lawsuit was settled in 2013 for $750,000.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday names nine employees of the corrections department, and three John Does as defendants.

The lawyers for the inmates hope their lawsuit creates change within the New Mexico Corrections Department.

KOB 4 reached out to the department for comment on the lawsuit:

"While we will not be commenting on the specific allegations due to active litigation, please know that NMCD is committed to the safety of all inmates within our care, and we maintain a zero tolerance policy regarding any and all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Please let me be clear – we absolutely will be investigating these allegations thoroughly and will take action to make certain that any staff involved in any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior are held accountable to the highest level."