Lawsuit: New Mexico county failed to monitor suicidal inmate

SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico county that held an inmate struggling with drug addiction failed to properly monitor him before he took his own life, according to a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit involving Fernando Rodriguez filed last week in U.S. District Court alleges that Grants County correctional officers ignored crucial signs about the inmate’s mental health and left him alone in solitary confinement without proper checkups, though he was on suicide watch.

Rodriguez was arrested in September 2018 following a physical altercation connected to drug use, court documents said.

Correctional officers didn’t document that he had “needle marks” on his body and didn’t correctly classify him as having a drug addiction, the lawsuit said. Court documents said his drug use had been previously reported to the Grants County Sheriff’s Department.

The lawsuit said Rodriguez was placed in solitary confinement under a suicide watch. But court documents say guards neglected to watch him for three hours and the camera in the cell didn’t work, attorneys for Rodriguez said.

Officials said a corrections officer later found Rodriguez dead from an apparent suicide.

Grants County Manager Charlene Webb said the county had no comment.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

New Mexico counties in recent years have been targets of lawsuits involving alleged mistreatment of inmates, some with mental health challenges.

In 2013, Doña Ana County reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case involving a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial. The inmate, Stephen Slevin, took out his own tooth during his confinement, according to the lawsuit. It was one of the largest prisoner civil rights awards in U.S. history.

Last year, the Doña Ana County Detention Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico, faced another lawsuit again. An attorney for Susan Hylton sued the county over allegations she was placed in solitary confinement after she requested to report sexual and physical abuse. Hylton made the request after correctional officers ordered her to strip during a search for drugs, the lawsuit said.

Doña Ana County spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said the county does not comment on pending litigation.