A state inmate formerly housed at the Northwest New Mexico Correctional Center in Grants is suing the company that operates the prison, claiming officials allowed six other inmates to assault him for more than 10 minutes without intervening and didn’t provide him care for injuries he received during the attack for about a week.
Leonard Lucero, 44, says in his complaint filed last week in U.S. District Court that a corrections officer employed by CoreCivic played a role in the assault — which he says occurred in October — and that Warden Betty J. Judd observed the incident.
It wasn’t until five days later, Lucero’s lawsuit says, that he received medical treatment, including the wiring of his broken jaw and X-rays to check for brain hemorrhage and swelling. Lucero has since been moved to the Penitentiary of New Mexico near Santa Fe.
CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs Amanda S. Gilchrist said in an email statement that the company has not yet been served with the complaint, adding “just because a complaint has been filed does not mean [it contains] facts.”
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, what I can tell you is CoreCivic cares deeply about every person in our care, and we work hard to ensure those in our facility are treated respectfully and humanely,” Gilchrist wrote in an email. “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and have a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of excessive use of force.”
Lucero’s complaint also names as a defendant Centurion Managed Care, the company that provides health care in the state’s 11 prisons. The company did not respond to an email seeking comment last week.
Lucero’s lawsuit is one of at least a dozen filed in state and federal courts in the past year by prisoners against CoreCivic, Judd or the state Corrections Department about treatment they receive at the hands of CoreCivic employees in Grants.
The Northwest New Mexico Correctional facility, which houses up to 744 male inmates at a time, is one of six privately run prisons in the state, and the only one manged by CoreCivic. The state Corrections Department directly manages five of the state’s prisons.
Several of the lawsuits allege lack of access to medical care, excessive use of force, intolerable living conditions and failure to follow established policies including grievance policies, among other claims.
Among the plaintiffs is James Fitzpatrick a 70-year-old disabled veteran serving 12 years on a second-degree murder conviction. He has filed at least three lawsuits against the facility, including claims of inadequate medical care, an assault by a corrections officer and inadequate food.
“I have been in 8 facilities in 8½ years,” Fitzpatrick wrote in a letter to The New Mexican in July. “Core Civic, Grants, is by far the worst facility of them all.”
Asked to address some of the allegations raised in the lawsuits the company said in an email that it has “a robust grievance process” which includes toll-free numbers and access to management; is “committed to providing all inmates … access to high-quality health care …” and provides meals that meet or exceed nutritional standards.
When Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham named former Florida prisons system leader Julie Jonessecretary of the Corrections Department in January, she said holding private prison contractors accountable for delivering quality services would be a priority.
Jones was not made available for comment. Deputy Director of Adult Prisons Melanie Martinez said she could not comment on pending litigation.
Martinez said “the governor wanted [Jones] to come in and do an assessment of the department and interact with legislators and advocates and figure out the strengths and weaknesses and go from there.”
“She is willing to hold people accountable,” Martinez said of Jones.