ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque lawyer who collected almost $500,000 from Curry County over abuse at its troubled jail facilities has filed a new federal lawsuit alleging his mentally ill client lingered for months in solitary confinement without proper care or treatment.
Matthew Coyte is demanding unspecified damages for Alejandro “Alex” Romero Jr., 36, of Clovis, a diagnosed schizophrenic with a long history of mental illness.
Coyte alleges Romero’s illness and psychotic episodes were documented and well known to jail staff, who failed to provide proper medication, triggering even more bizarre behavior.
County Manager Lance Pyle declined comment Friday, noting the county has not yet been served notice of the lawsuit.
Coyte previously represented then-15 year old Orlando Salas, who charged he was nearly starved to death, losing more than 50 pounds while being held at Curry County’s juvenile detention center in 2006. The county settled that lawsuit by paying Salas $450,000.
Romero was arrested by Clovis police in August 2012 on a misdemeanor criminal damage charge after taking off all his clothes while staying with his parents and smashing objects in their home. Coyte said Romero’s schizophrenia was well known to jail staff because he had just spent 22 months there in solitary confinement awaiting a trial to declare him legally incompetent.
Romero’s last stay at the jail beginning in August 2012 lasted seven months. Coyte said Romero wasn’t given his medication after refusing to take it because “it was pink.”
“Unmedicated, Alex’s mental health deteriorated …,” according to the lawsuit filed May 6 in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque. “During his time in isolation, Alex spent hours on the floor under his bed ‘rocking,’ talking to himself, and naked.”
The lawsuit alleges because of his mental illness, Romero would tear his mattress to pieces.
“Instead of treating his mental illness that compelled Alex to tear up his mattress,” the lawsuit alleges. Jail staff “denied Alex access to a mattress, forcing Alex to sleep on the metal bed frame or on the floor under the bed.”
Romero was a accused of being violent and refused to shower.
Coyte charges solitary confinement exacerbated Romero’s illness.
“After spending six months in these conditions,” the lawsuit alleges, “Alex’s mental health deteriorated to the point that he smeared his own feces all over his cell.
“Alex spent seven months in the segregation cell under in humane conditions,” Coyte alleges, before he was finally transferred to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Coyte said less than a month after receiving proper care and medication at the NMBHI, Romero was “cooperative, polite and displaying appropriate hygiene. A month after arriving at NMBHI, Alex was able to speak of enjoying watching Westerns on TV and his desire to go home.”
The lawsuit is brought against Curry County commissioners, current and former jail administrators Tori Sandoval and Gerry Billy and Detention Officer Ecipio Lucero.
“I am really troubled to see how Curry County administrators continue to use solitary confinement in such an inhumane way,” Coyt said.
“Having successfully sued them in the past, I find their conduct in running this jail, and the juvenile facility, reprehensible. It seems nothing can deter county officials from ignoring the basic human rights of the mentally ill in their facilities.
“I will continue to sue them until they understand how important this is.”
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