A Valencia County woman has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the county jail held her in solitary confinement for nearly two years, failed to provide treatment for her mental illness and kept her in conditions so unsanitary that one of her socks rotted into an open wound on her foot.
The lawsuit, filed by Albuquerque attorney Matthew Coyte, says Jan Green, 50 – who was never convicted – was placed in a cell that was a converted shower room and that she slept on a pad on the floor next to an open drain.
The suit contends she was subject to civil rights violations and inhumane treatment during the three times she was in the Valencia County Detention Center between July 2009 and February 2012.
Jail warden Joe Chavez, in an interview, disputed the allegations and called Green a “tough woman to deal with” and said she “could be abusive.”
Chavez and County Manager Bruce Swingle said Green was never denied medical or mental health care, although she did refuse both on numerous occasions. She also sometimes refused to shower and take care of herself, Chavez said.
“When she was incarcerated in Valencia County, we didn’t just sit on our hands in respect to her,” Swingle said. “This is not who we are. This is not what Valencia County is about. I have to say the warden, case manager and staff did an awful lot to try and get this individual help.”
The suit names Joe Chavez; Rebecca Granger, a nurse practitioner contracted with the jail; detention center employee Capt. Ron Perez; and an unknown correctional officer identified as “John Doe.” It seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.
Green’s lawsuit acknowledges that she suffered “periodic symptoms of mental illness,” but it said she raised four children and held a full-time job throughout her life.
When she was arrested and booked on July 5, 2009, on suspicion of committing an act of domestic violence, her mental illness was “so obvious, a note in her jail file describes her suffering from hallucinations and recommends she see a psychiatrist as quickly as possible,” the lawsuit said.
The suit did not specify what type of mental illness Green had but alleges she developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of her treatment at the Valencia County jail. It alleges that she spent almost the entire years of 2010 and 2011 in solitary confinement there – which Chavez disputes, saying she was placed in an observation unit.
“It’s clear in the jail records that prior issues existed,” Coyte said in a phone interview last week. “They indicate she had serious mental health issues when she arrived, and they didn’t treat the symptoms.”
The suit claims when Green was transferred to other facilities in Cibola and Santa Fe counties, she was not placed in solitary confinement and her mental state stabilized, only to deteriorate upon her return to the Valencia County jail.
Jail conditions described
Coyte alleges in the Green lawsuit that Green’s solitary confinement cell was a converted shower room, not designed for long-term housing, and that it contained a dripping shower head that could not be turned off or on from within the cell. She slept on a pad on the floor next to an open drain, the lawsuit said.
The cell where Green was housed at times is known at the jail as an “observation unit,” according to Chavez. The room, with a toilet and shower, has a large window looking into it so that inmates can be observed, he said.
“It’s near our records personnel, booking and medical intake. There is constant traffic through there,” Chavez said. “She wasn’t stuck somewhere and forgotten about. It was somewhere with constant activity and it was natural, as you passed by to say, ‘Hey, Jan. How you doing?’ We tried to keep her in a social environment so as not to cut her off from people.”
Chavez said Green was placed in the observation unit when she became too unruly to be in the women’s general population area.
The warden said he and the staff tried to contact Green’s attorney, a public defender, to have her mental status evaluated, but didn’t receive a response. It wasn’t until Chavez contacted a District Court judge directly that a hearing was scheduled.
“We knew she had mental health problems, so we took more of an interest in her,” Chavez said.
Swingle also denied that she was held in solitary confinement for two years.
She was released 16 days after her first arrest in 2009 and was never held alone, he said. Records show the charges were dismissed because Green was found not competent to stand trial.
During the two other periods when she was an inmate, she also spent time in at the Cibola and Santa Fe county jails as well as the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, N.M., Swingle said. The lawsuit did not make clear why she was jailed during those two periods.
He said while mental heath is a major problem at jails nationwide, the Valencia County staff did what it could to help Green.
“Since they have opened the doors on (institutions) across the country, jails become the de facto mental health program,” he said. “In most cases, the detention center is not the place for people to be.
“But families have no other place to take them, law enforcement has no place to take these people and they end up in jails. This is not best place for them and we understand that.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal