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Lawsuit: Jail didn’t give inmate proper care before suicide

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Officials at a New Mexico jail failed to stop an inmate from getting heroin and did not provide proper psychiatric care before he killed himself, according to a federal lawsuit.

It is the latest legal claim over the conditions and treatment of inmates at New Mexico county jails. One lawsuit this year led to a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The family of Joseph Barela said a private prison company operating Torrance County jail allowed the inmate to acquire drugs, including lethal black tar heroin, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque this week.

When Barela was moved to solitary confinement in November 2013 for refusing a drug test, officials ignored suicidal signs and left him without treatment for a week, court documents said.

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“Barela was noticed to be ‘acting strangely’ and that he was ‘talking very softly in the window door, talking nonsense’ and hallucinating while in her segregation unit,” the lawsuit said.

Jail staff did not place Barela on suicide watch. He later hanged himself using a shredded bed sheet, court documents said.

A toxicology report showed Barela had traces of methamphetamine, amphetamine, heroin, diazepam and suboxone in his system, the lawsuit said.

Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for Nashville, Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America, the private jail company named in the lawsuit, said the company’s lawyers are reviewing the court documents.

“While we can’t speak to its specifics, CCA takes the health and safety of the inmates entrusted to our care very seriously,” Burns said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

It was unclear what charges sent Barela to the Torrance County Correctional Facility. There are a number of convictions listed for the name Joseph Barela, according the New Mexico courts website.

The lawsuit comes after a man who says he was kept in filthy conditions in solitary confinement and denied proper health care in an Otero County jail settled his federal lawsuit earlier this year for $2.9 million.

Matthew Coyte, the attorney for Jerome Gonzales, said his client suffered from mental illness and was not given proper treatment while in an isolated cell. Gonzales also was forced to use the restroom in a small drainage space in front of guards, Coyte said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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