New civil rights lawsuit alleges inmate was sexually and physically assaulted

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New allegations revealed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday claim correctional officers sexually assaulted, beat, and pepper sprayed an inmate. The inmate says he was just for standing up for a fellow inmate.

“Accountability can and should come through our legal processes here in New Mexico,” said Steven Allen with the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project. 

Allen is representing Carl Berry who pleaded guilty to armed robbery in 2016. Berry was doing his time without any problems until he was transferred to prison in Clayton, New Mexico in 2021.

“The thing about this case is the officers started this fight. They went into the pod looking to stir up troubles,” said Mallory Gagan, with the New Mexico Prison and Jail Project. 

Berry says it was a shake down. Correctional officers were going into cells, and according to Berry, they were harassing another inmate, goading him to react, so they could use force against him.

Berry says he kicked on the door of his cell in protest and that’s when the officers targeted him.

“The defendants sexually abused and humiliated Carl, they physically assaulted him, and they sprayed him repeatedly in the face with pepper spray, while they forcibly holding him down on the ground,” said Gagan. 

Berry says a correctional officer pressed his groin up against his butt, and the other officers snickered and laughed, before they threw him on the ground and pepper sprayed him.

“One of the officers placed his boot on Carl’s back and said, “Let me guess? You can’t breathe?’ An undeniable reference to the murder of George Floyd,” Gagan said. 

Five correctional department employees are now getting sued.

In reports, they claim Berry got aggressive with them, but there’s no video of what happened inside the cell – which violates prison policy according to Berry’s lawyers.

The Office of Professional Standards investigated, but redacted their findings in reports they released.

“Nobody deserves that,” said Gagan. 

Berry’s lawyers say this attack happened at the same time Derek Chauvin was on trial for George Floyd’s murder, making the “you can’t breathe comment” no accident.

KOB 4 reached out to the New Mexico Corrections Department, and they say no comment – as they have not yet been served with the lawsuit.

The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project has been around for a little while now, but do they feel they are making a difference by going after what they see is a broken correctional system?

KOB 4 asked them about that Tuesday, and they pointed to one of the first cases they filed regarding a rat investigation in a women’s facility in Grants – back in 2021.

Allegedly, rat droppings and rodents were ending up in the food for the inmates there. They say this infestation had been ongoing until recently. 

While that lawsuit is still ongoing, Allen says he has heard personally the Grant’s prison has cleaned up and the rats are no longer a problem.

The New Mexico Prison and Jail Project points to that as an early example of how their work is leading to positive change.