ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the second time in four months, a corrections officer at the Metropolitan Detention Center has been charged with sexual abuse of female inmates.
Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies arrested Andres Verdugo on Thursday after female inmates made multiple abuse allegations, including one woman who claimed he had sex with her in a jail closet, according to a criminal complaint.
Verdugo, 34, was booked into the same jail where he works on rape and witness intimidation charges. He is on administrative leave with pay from his county job.
Among the allegations, he is accused of asking female inmates to wear tighter uniforms and watching inmates change clothes and shower, according to the criminal complaint.
When one woman complained, Verdugo allegedly ordered inmates out of their cells and told them that he had the power to make them disappear, reportedly saying he would burn their bodies in a car “on the mesa” or feed them to pigs, the complaint states.
On his first overtime shift in the pod where the alleged victims resided, Verdugo ordered all the inmates out of their cells and asked them to explain why a profanity relating to the female anatomy offended them, according to the complaint.
From there, inmates said, Verdugo’s behavior became more unusual and he took more and more shifts in the same pod. It’s unclear from the criminal complaint over what time period the alleged abuse occurred.
In one instance, inmates said he removed an inmate from her jail job. When the inmate’s friend asked Verdugo about it, Verdugo told the friend he would give the inmate her job back if the friend would strip naked and do 10 jumping jacks, the complaint states.
Detectives spoke with four female inmates. One said that after complaining of back pain, Verdugo guided a fellow inmate’s hand along her back from below her bra strap to her buttocks and then gave her three Ibuprofen pills, which is against jail policy, according to the complaint.
Inmates said Verdugo regularly brought in pizza, soda and lotions for the inmates.
On June 9, one inmate said she saw Verdugo and another female inmate, who initially denied that the officer had ever touched her, spending time together in the library. That inmate later said she and Verdugo had sex in a closet and said she denied it at first out of fear and because of Verdugo’s position as a corrections officer.
Metropolitan Detention Center spokeswoman Nataura Powdrell said Verdugo has been employed at the jail since March 2007 and that the jail is cooperating with the criminal investigation. The jail is also conducting its own internal investigation, she said.
“MDC continues to work in conjunction with BCSO in addressing personnel issues at MDC that are inappropriate, unacceptable, and not to the standards that MDC has established and will continue to enforce,” deputy county manager Tom Swisstack said in a news release.
This is not the first time female MDC inmates have accused male guards of inappropriate sexual conduct.
In March, guard Torry Chambers was indicted on six charges of rape of an inmate for allegedly using his authority as a corrections officer to coerce inmates into sex. The alleged rapes occurred between 2008 and 2010.
He was also accused of helping another inmate, Anthony Townes, a former prison guard, rape at least one of the women, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.
Townes was being housed at MDC after being accused of raping four female inmates while he was a guard at Camino Nuevo women’s prison in 2007. He was later convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Powdrell said she doesn’t see a trend of sexual abuse of female inmates at MDC but that, instead, there are a couple of problem officers. After the Chambers allegations and other personnel problems, she said the jail in November 2013 implemented a psychological evaluation and additional testing for potential corrections officers during the hiring process.
“We do have a couple bad ones in the bunch, but we did make major changes to our hiring process,” she said.
She added that jail officials were deeply concerned about the allegations.
“Every situation like this that happens … bothers us,” she said. “So we are going to take a look at this. We were saddened by it. We were angered by it, as well.”