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Cyberattack leads to N.M. jail lockdown, settlement violations

The Metropolitan Detention Center has been unable to access its cameras since last week’s attack

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center

MDC has fallen out of compliance in a suit over jail conditions because of the cyberattack.

Bernalillo County

By Ryan Boetel
Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County filed an emergency notice in federal court last week because a ransomware attack made the Metropolitan Detention Center unable to comply with terms of a settlement agreement in a years-running lawsuit over jail conditions.

The county last Wednesday announced its offices and systems were the victims of a cyberattack, affecting a wide variety of county government operations. Many county buildings and services have been closed until further notice.

As a result, the county-operated MDC has been unable to access its cameras since the attack, which is one of the reasons it has fallen out of compliance in the McClendon vs. City of Albuquerque lawsuit, which centers on jail conditions.

The attack has limited how much time inmates can spend out of their cells, and also reduced their access to telephones and tablets, according to the filing. The county also has been unable to gather data required as a condition of the settlement agreement. No visitors have been allowed.

The county said in the filing that its inability to access cameras is one of the more concerning aspects of the cyber attack, which has caused the facility to be on “lockdown” since Wednesday.

“This means inmates, even inmates in general population, are temporarily limited to their cells,” Taylor Rahn, an attorney for the county, wrote in the filing.

It was unknown how long the county will be affected by the ransomware attack, according to the filing.

Tia Bland, a county spokeswoman, said technicians over the weekend had some success getting MDC cameras working. She said jail officials were optimistic for more progress on Monday.

County headquarters at Alvarado Square will have limited public access beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, she said.

The county in the notice described a ransomware attack as one in which a hacker takes data from a victim and holds it “hostage” until the victim pays a certain amount of money.

Local courts, also affected by the attack, have designated new spaces for defendants.

A space was set up at Children’s Court in Albuquerque with secure laptops so defendants can speak with their attorneys at hearings in state district court. Metropolitan Court is designating more space for defendants at the courthouse and considering moving some proceedings to a nearby building, according to a news release from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

“I sincerely appreciate our criminal court bench. as well as Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Maria Dominguez, all of our justice partners and the New Mexico Supreme Court emergency response team for working quickly to enact plans to allow criminal proceedings to continue in the face of this unforeseen event,” Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Marie Ward said in a prepared statement on Friday.

WATCH: On-Demand Webinar: The growing threat of ransomware attacks on public safety agencies

(c)2022 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)