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Controversial jail sergeant accused in lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A former inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center has filed a lawsuit against a controversial jail sergeant, alleging the sergeant used an inflammatory spray and a Taser weapon on him when he asked for his antidepressants and breathing medication.

Eric Allen, the sergeant named in the lawsuit, has spent almost all of 2016 on paid administrative leave as a result of a separate incident, in which medical employees said Allen used excessive force against an inmate who was receiving medical treatment in December 2015.

Allen also came under fire when jail video was made pubic in response to a Journal request in which Allen repeatedly used force and inflammatory spray against inmate Suzie Chavez in September 2015. That video made national news when the Journal reported on it in June and led to an emergency meeting by the jail’s oversight board.

During that meeting, Justin Allen, a former inmate, said Eric Allen also had used excessive force against him when he was an inmate at MDC. Justin Allen subsequently filed a lawsuit against Eric Allen, two unnamed jail guards and Tom Swisstack, the former deputy county manager.

Justin Allen’s lawsuit alleges he was being housed in the jail’s infirmary when he was transferred from prison to MDC to be arraigned on a drug trafficking charge. He was in the infirmary because he used antidepressants and an inhaler for breathing issues.

Justin Allen said in his lawsuit that he repeatedly asked jail guards for his medication, and eventually Eric Allen went to his cell and told him that he wasn’t going to get medication for any reason. The lawsuit alleges Eric Allen then started spraying inflammatory spray into Justin Allen’s cell and also training a Taser weapon at his groin.

Justin Allen alleges Eric Allen then made him turn and face the wall with his hands up and shot him with a Taser weapon even though he was complying.

The lawsuit was filed in state court last month before being transferred to federal court. The suit seeks compensatory damages, attorneys fees and other relief the court finds appropriate.

Nataura Powdrell-Moore, a spokeswoman for the jail, said the encounter between Justin Allen and Eric Allen was put under investigation by both the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the jail’s internal affairs division after Justin Allen spoke at the public meeting. She declined to comment further.

In 2008, Allen was fired in connection with an excessive force incident, but an independent arbitrator decided to give him his job back the following year.

Charles Lakins, Justin Allen’s attorney, said he understands there is jail video of the encounter mentioned in his client’s lawsuit. The county has acknowledged a Journal Inspection of Public Records Request for the video, saying it expects to respond to the request early next year.

“The allegations speak for themselves as to the egregious treatment that Justin received,” he said. “It’s really disturbing that there is video of this jail officer mistreating other inmates before this incident, and this guy’s still on the job.”

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