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A dispute between two Bernalillo County jail inmates over a tablet computer led to a beating in 2020 that left one man severely injured, according to a lawsuit filed against the county.
Matthew Perales, 28, suffered severe head injuries that required multiple brain surgeries and a lengthy stay in the University of New Mexico Hospital intensive care unit, according to the suit, which alleges negligence by Metropolitan Detention Center staff.
The beating occurred in April 2020 while Perales was in jail awaiting trial on vehicle theft and other charges.
The suit was filed in 2nd Judicial District Court against Bernalillo County and county commissioners. County officials did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.
The beating occurred in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic when inmates were frequently in lockdown and MDC restricted their use of phone calls, resulting in competition among inmates for a limited number of tablet computers.
Due to limited access to phones, “the tablet computers became the inmates’ principal means of communication with the outside world” during lockdowns, the suit alleges.
On April 28, 2020, the day of the attack, MDC had provided no more than four tablet computers for 39 inmates in Perales’ pod at the jail, the suit said.
“Mr. Perales was attacked by another inmate at MDC due to a dispute regarding the use of the tablet computers,” it said.
The attacker, who is not identified, punched Perales in the head, causing him to fall unconscious on a concrete floor, it said.
Weeks after the attack, a member of his UNMH treatment team told MDC in a letter that medical personnel had removed a portion of Perales’ skull and predicted that he would require years of therapy to regain basic life skills.
“It is very likely that this represents a life changing event for the patient and some loss of function will be permanent,” the UNMH staff member wrote.
Perales’ attorney, Christopher Dodd, said Thursday that Perales faces additional surgeries to replace the missing portion of his skull and still struggles with disabilities from the injury.
Perales was arrested in October 2018, and again in November 2019, on charges including vehicle theft, possession of a firearm by a felon and drug charges, court records show. In November 2019, a judge ordered Perales held in jail pending trial.
In May 2020, about a month after the attack, a judge ordered Perales released from custody and noted he was “seriously incapacitated” and unable to report to pretrial services, records show.
A judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation last year to determine his competency to stand trial, but no evaluation had been completed as recently as March. Both cases remain pending.
The suit alleges MDC staff “failed to establish adequate protocols and systems to ensure that disputes regarding the tablet computers did not escalate into inmate-on-inmate violence.”
MDC staff also failed to take precautions to prevent the attack, even after they were notified of a conflict between Perales and his attacker, it alleges.
The suit asks a judge to award unspecified damages for Perales’ medical care, pain, suffering and emotional distress.