Allegations of rape, coercion and an attempted cover-up are always serious. Even more so when the allegations involve a prison inmate, a high-ranking guard and the warden, now deputy director of the state Corrections Department’s Adult Prisons Division.
A civil-rights lawsuit filed on behalf of former inmate Kenneth Morgan alleges Kenneth Carrejo, a former captain at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, in 2011 repeatedly raped Morgan, including two instances while he was handcuffed, and that then-warden Anthony Romero helped to thwart an undercover FBI investigation into the alleged rapes.
The lawsuit claims excessive force and violations of due process and equal protection, that the treatment of Morgan, who is gay, rose to the level of cruel and unusual punishment and that his life was threatened if he told anyone of the rapes.
Because of the serious nature of the allegations, Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel has ordered an investigation; he has stopped short of placing Romero on leave, instead temporarily reassigning him. Marcantel says at this point there’s no information to suggest Romero “attempted to obstruct the criminal inquiry in any manner.”
Prison is no picnic. Inmate-on-inmate, guard-on-inmate and inmate-on-guard violence are not unheard of, but the lawsuit raises troubling questions.
Among them is why, after a Corrections employee allegedly tipped off Romero that an FBI undercover agent was coming in to get DNA evidence Morgan had collected, did State Police send in at least one officer— who just happened to be Carrejo’s brother— to interrogate Morgan and to find out where the DNA evidence was hidden? The lawsuit says State Police sent two officers, both brothers of Carrejo, after Romero contacted the agency. However, State Police says it was only one brother, who routinely answers calls to the prison.
Either way, a sibling shouldn’t have been assigned to check out reports at a lockup where his brother was a captain at the time.
If the rape allegations prove to be true, it’s clear that power was being abused and criminal acts were happening in a place where criminals are sent to do their time, but not to be prey for criminals in uniform.
Secretary Marcantel is correct: “The type of activity that is alleged in this complaint has absolutely no place in New Mexico’s correctional facilities.” He should ensure the investigation is vigorous and that there truly is no place in the system for this kind of criminal behavior by public employees.
This is one lawsuit the state should not settle. There is too much in question that should be aired in public.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.