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Man lived in filth in solitary confinement, lawsuit says

An eastern New Mexico man with schizophrenia was placed in a Curry County solitary confinement cell without medical treatment for seven months, and he was forced to live in filthy conditions, a federal lawsuit says.

Alejandro Romero Jr., now 37, of Clovis, was placed in an isolated cell in 2012 after his arrest for misdemeanor criminal damage to property of a household member, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on May 6. Police were called to the scene of Romero’s parents’ homes after he reportedly stripped naked and smashed objects, the lawsuit said.

After Romero was taken to Curry County Detention Center, guards failed to provide him with proper treatment even though he refused medication, court documents said. As a result, Romero’s mental health deteriorated so badly that he smeared feces all over his cell and destroyed his mattress, the lawsuit said.

“Instead of treating his mental illness that compelled Alex to tear up his mattress, defendants denied Alex access to a mattress, forcing Alex to sleep on the metal bed frame or on the floor under the bed,” the lawsuit states.

Romero was given proper care only after seven months and his charge was dropped, court documents said. “Alex was noted to be disheveled, with overgrown hair and beard, and was too incoherent to give any history” to mental health officials, court documents said.

The lawsuit, which names the Curry County Commission and two other officials, seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

Curry County Manager Lance Pyle said the county has not been served the lawsuit and declined to comment.

The lawsuit comes after a number of other high-profile lawsuits by former inmates, which raised concerns about jail and prison conditions in New Mexico. State lawmakers also failed to pass a bill that would have banned the use of solitary confinement on juveniles and inmates suffering from mental illness.

In 2013, Doña Ana County reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case involving a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial.

Los Lunas County 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 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.