State pays $200,000 to inmate injured in 2017 prison riot

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A prison inmate who survived having his throat slashed in a 2017 cellblock riot has reached a financial settlement with the state of New Mexico to resolve accusations of negligence against a private prison operator and the state Corrections Department, records show.

Settlement documents posted on a state clearinghouse website this week show that Samuel A. Sanchez has been awarded $200,000 to settle demands related to pain and suffering and allegations of negligence in the hiring, supervision and training of a prison guard.

In the aftermath of the events at Northeast New Mexico Correctional Facility in Clayton, the state took over direct operations of the 625-bed facility from private contractor GEO Group in 2019. The company cited difficulties in recruiting and retaining workers in its decision to end its contract.

Attorneys for Sanchez could not immediately be reached Friday.

The settlement resolves all allegations in the lawsuit against the agency, GEO Group and affiliated personnel, Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison said. The agency had no further comment.

In his lawsuit, Sanchez accused GEO Group and the Corrections Department of negligence after a convicted serial killer persuaded a lone, 22-year-old prison guard to open a cell door, setting off chaos in a 40-inmate cellblock. The lawsuit cited inadequate staffing across the facility.

Sanchez was set upon by two other inmates who slit his neck. He was hospitalized and eventually recovered.

Prosecutors initially filed criminal charges of assisting in an escape against the prison guard who opened the cell door for Clifton Bloomfield, a convicted murderer sentenced in connection with five killings in Albuquerque. Authorities said the guard was overpowered, and Bloomfield used keys to release other inmates who overran the cellblock.

The charges were later dropped in negotiations after the guard alleged in his own lawsuit that he was made a scapegoat after being placed alone in a cellblock for hardened, dangerous criminals without proper training or certification.

The Corrections Department wound down contracts with GEO Group and took over direct management of the prison at Clayton in November 2019, during the first year of the administration of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The agency has cited opportunities to provide more programming and vocational training to inmates.

The administration of Lujan Grisham has shown a cautious approach to scaling back reliance on privately operated prisons when economically feasible, opposing legislation this year that would make it unlawful for the state and local governments to sign contracts with the private sector to operate prisons and jails.