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Felony charges against 43 in jail attack

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — County jail officials are doing an exhaustive investigation into a weekend attack on corrections officers that was followed by some sort of protest, where dozens of inmates gathered in the recreation yard and blocked all the exits and entrances so officers couldn’t reach them.

The incident Saturday morning, which a Metropolitan Detention Center spokeswoman said was the first of its kind in her seven-year tenure at the sprawling West Side facility, has led to new felony charges for 43 of the 1,139 inmates currently locked up there.

Three of the men are accused of directly attacking corrections officers, and MDC spokeswoman Nataura Powdrell said the officers had minor injuries.

At least 40 other inmates allegedly went into the recreation yard, threw towels over security cameras and blocked the entrances so corrections officers couldn’t enter. The jail had to call in an emergency team to “show force” and return the inmates to their cells, Powdrell said.

Deputies said in court records that several writing pens were found on the ground, and one inmate told them they had planned to use the pens as weapons.

Forty of the inmates who were in the recreation yard were charged with assault by prisoner, conspiracy, tampering with evidence and unlawful assault in jail.

But those charges didn’t pass muster in Metropolitan Court. Judge Michelle Castillo Dowler found there was no probable cause to detain the men on those charges.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Felicia Romero said that’s because deputies – who are in charge of investigating criminal activity at the jail – wrote one charging document for all 40 of the inmates. That complaint did not detail the probable cause against each inmate, and the judge requested that be done.

She said deputies might refile the criminal complaints but need to finish their investigation into the incident first.

The judge found there was probable cause against the three men directly accused of attacking the corrections officers.

The motive behind the inmates’ attack remains unclear.

Powdrell said BCSO and jail officials are doing a joint investigation into the incident, and are interviewing every inmate who was in the Echo 8 pod – a general population housing area – to try to find out what happened.

Many of the men allegedly involved in the incident have made headlines before.

At least seven of them are charged with murder in homicides dating back to 2014. And others have been in the news for other reasons, including a man accused of sodomizing a 7-year-old and a man accused of setting up a torture chamber in the South Valley.

For the record: An earlier headline on this story incorrectly included an incorrect number of inmates facing felony charges in the incident. It has been corrected above.