The lawsuit filed recently in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque says Michael Faziani, 57, was thrown in a Sierra County solitary confinement jail cell for days after getting arrested on misdemeanor charges for a minor accident in a McDonald’s parking pot.
Guards ignored his request for a shower and his cell got so squalid another inmate had to clean it, according to court papers filed last month.
“Due to the toxic effects of solitary confinement (Faziani) lost the ability to care of his own hygiene,” the lawsuit said.
Documents also said the Columbia, Tennessee man lost 22 pounds in 18 days and often begged for help. He was also denied medication for his chronic back pain, court papers said.
Sierra County officials did not immediately return emails from The Associated Press.
Faziani is seeking an unspecified amount for punitive and compensatory damages.
Matthew Coyte, Faziani’s lawyer and an Albuquerque attorney involved in the New Mexico cases, said the state’s county jails continue to be where most egregious solitary confinement cases are found.
“The practice of placing someone in solitary is done so professionally in the prisons they got it down to a science or an art,” said Coyte. “In a jail, (officials) do it with such amateurish ways that they run into trouble much easier in getting sued.”
For example, Dona Ana County last year reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case of a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial and was so neglected that he took out his own tooth.
Another county, Los Lunas, recently reached a $1.6 million settlement with a female inmate who said she was denied treatment for her bipolar disorder while in and out of a New Mexico jail’s solitary confinement unit for two years. A sock rotted into an open wound on her foot and she was forced to sleep in a shower, the lawsuit said.
Jails also don’t provide enough mental health care, and instead often opt to send troubled inmates to isolation, said Coyte, who has filed lawsuits in an effort to get jails to change solitary confinement practices.
Grace Philips, an attorney for the New Mexico Association of Counties, a group that insures the state’s counties, said for years the group has been trying to encourage New Mexico counties to get certified under the “New Mexico Adult Detention Professional Standards Council,” which seeks to offer jail standards on inmate injury, sanitation, and segregation. Those that do get a discount on insurance premiums, Phillips said. But so far, only six counties out of New Mexico’s 33 have been certified, she said.
In recent years, several states, like Maine, Colorado and California, have begun looking at their prison isolation policies after advocates and lawyers have publicized alleged abuse cases and authored reports detailing the high incidence of inmate isolation, particularly among the mentally ill.