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Prison accused of culture of sex abuse

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – An inmate says that two correctional officers sexually abused her and that she faced retaliation for reporting the initial assaults – part of a broader culture at the women’s prison in Grants, where officers felt emboldened to abuse female prisoners, according to a lawsuit filed in state District Court.

At one point, an officer crumpled up a grievance the inmate had filed, and another officer said he would have “his turn” with her, the lawsuit alleges.

The 19-page complaint, filed by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, also accuses the state Corrections Department of fostering a culture that allowed officers to sexually abuse inmates in Grants and discouraged women from reporting the abuse.

In graphic detail, the lawsuit alleges a series of assaults on the plaintiff in 2017 and describes sexual abuse as a regular part of life at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility.

At least five officers at the prison have been charged with criminal sexual penetration since 2017, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff, Lisa Ann Jaramillo, has since been transferred to a prison in Springer. Her lawsuit targets the women’s prison, Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Grants, and the New Mexico Corrections Department.

The ACLU of New Mexico said the lawsuit is the first in a series that will accuse the state of failing to protect incarcerated women.

“Sadly, Ms. Jaramillo’s story is not unique,” ACLU attorney Lalita Moskowitz said in a written statement. “What she experienced is symptomatic of the general culture and pattern within NMCD facilities of ignoring, dismissing and mishandling allegations of sexual abuse, and of retaliating against women who have the courage to report abuse.”

Also representing Jaramillo are attorneys Leon Howard and Corinne Holt. The suit was filed Tuesday in Santa Fe.

Alisha Tafoya Lucero, New Mexico’s interim Cabinet secretary for corrections, said she can’t comment on active litigation. But she said her department has worked closely with local law enforcement.

“NMCD takes allegations of sexual assault very seriously,” she said in a written statement. “We strive to maintain safe and secure institutions and we unequivocally commit to upholding the highest public safety standards inside and outside our institutions.”

Jaramillo said the abuse started in 2017, when she had a maintenance job on the prison grounds that put her under the authority of a corrections officer serving as her supervisor. The officer flirted with her and, eventually, sexually abused her, according the lawsuit.

Jaramillo believes other officers knew about it, the lawsuit says. Eventually, another officer “insinuated to Ms. Jaramillo that he was going to have ‘his turn’ with her,” the lawsuit says.

He later bit her neck as part of a sexual assault.

At one point, the lawsuit says, Jaramillo reported the behavior of one of the officers, but she was the one who was disciplined – accused of trying to engage in an inappropriate relationship with the officer. Later, she filed a formal grievance, and surveillance video captured an officer reading it, crumpling it up and putting it back in the grievance box, according to her suit.

The lawsuit accuses the Corrections Department and Western New Mexico Correctional Facility of allowing “sexual abuse to become endemic” at the prison.

Two officers accused in the lawsuit of abusing Jaramillo have been charged with criminal sexual penetration. Neither works for the Corrections Department anymore.

Former Officer Michael A. Martinez entered a guilty plea last year, and former Officer Eluid Stan Arguello is scheduled for trial later this year, according to court records.

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