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Suit: Inmate denied care after suffering in hot van

A former New Mexico inmate has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and two state corrections officers, saying they left him and several other shackled prisoners to suffer unattended in a van with inadequate ventilation on a hot summer day.

The lawsuit, filed in state court by Isaha Casias, of Hesperus, Colo., describes a scene of panic inside an enclosed, crowded vehicle parked outside the state penitentiary near Santa Fe two years ago. Some inmates passed out, including Casias, while others yelled and rocked the van in an effort to seek help, according to the lawsuit.

Casias was convicted in 2013 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm or destructive device by a felon, according to court records, and was released in August 2014.

His lawsuit alleges officers Taracina Morgan and Herman Gonzales on July 11, 2013, left him and 10 other inmates in the van despite knowing conditions could be harmful to prisoners. Casias’ attorney, Matthew Coyte of Albuquerque, said his office has received multiple complaints stemming from treatment during transport rides, which he contends are notorious among prisoners. But Casias’ experience represented one of the worst cases Coyte had reviewed, the attorney said.

“If this kind of attitude remains unchecked, someone is going to die in the back of one of these vans,” Coyte said.

The Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for comment Monday, and Morgan and Gonzales could not be reached.

According to the lawsuit, Casias and several other inmates were being transported from Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas to Lea County Correctional Facility in Hobbs, stopping at the state prison near Santa Fe and other locations across the state.

Casias is seeking compensation for emotional damages and physical injuries, including a seizure that the lawsuit suggests was caused by conditions inside the van, and wrist and back pain from a fall. A compensation amount has not been determined.

Casias claims inmates were left in the van without air conditioning for up to an hour while Morgan and Gonzales were inside the state prison. When the officers returned and opened the van door for the inmates, an unconscious Casias, who was sitting closest to the back door, fell out of the vehicle, with his face and back hitting the bumper, according to the lawsuit.

Casias also contends the two officers decided against medical staff’s suggestion to leave him in Santa Fe for treatment, saying it would require too much paperwork. After he arrived in Hobbs, his request for treatment was not granted until almost two weeks later, according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuit: Inmate denied treatment after suffering in hot van