Lawsuit filed after corrections officer shoots naked inmate with projectile

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An inmate who was taking a shower was shot with “less than lethal” projectiles while he was naked. Now, he is suing the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

The nonprofit New Mexico Prison and Jail Project calls this a perfect example of excessive use of force. According to the lawsuit, the inmates were being told to go back to their cells but two were in the showers and could not hear the orders. That’s when a corrections officer fired a so-called warning shot into the showers – hitting an inmate with that less-lethal projectile.

Body camera video shows the moments the corrections officer enters the shower, shouts orders, then fires the gun less than two seconds later.

“Once we took a look at the video, it became clear that this was a lawsuit,” NM Prison and Jail Project staff attorney Mallory Gagan said.

In May of 2022, two inmates, including Vincente Sanchez, were naked when a corrections officer entered the shower yelling orders and firing his rifle. As the inmates tried to cover themselves, the officer fires another less-lethal round directly into Sanchez’s stall – hitting his leg. 

“We believe the law is clear you cannot use this kind of force on an inmate who is arguably, I want to say arguably because Mr. Sanchez is attempting to comply with what the officers are telling him to do, without exposing himself to them,” Gagan said.

As Sanchez and the other inmate lay on the ground you can see blood starting to pool under Sanchez’s leg where he was hit.

“Case law is clear even if a person is refusing a direct order, you cannot shoot them even with a less lethal projectile in order to get them to comply that is a very standard use of force in any type of corrections or law enforcement capacity,” Gagan said.

KOB 4 reached out to Doña Ana County for comment on this lawsuit, while they said they cannot comment on ongoing litigations they did confirm the corrections officer named in the lawsuit is still employed and working in the jail.

“I think that is concerning I think there is some information we hope to obtain through discovery and litigation about whether there was any discipline and what that looked like, but we certainly hope he has not been doing this sort of thing in the intervening months we hope no one else has to go through this,” Gagan said.

This lawsuit was just filed in federal court Tuesday. The next step is for a judge to set a date for a conference where both parties can meet.