NM inmate who had throat slit sues state, company that managed prison

The inmate had his throat slit during a 2017 riot at a state prison in Clayton

By Phaedra Haywood
The Santa Fe New Mexican

CLAYTON, NM — An inmate who had his throat slit during a 2017 riot at a state prison in Clayton is suing the state Corrections Department and the company that managed the prison, claiming they failed to adequately staff the facility.

Twenty corrections officers were supposed to be on duty at the 625-bed medium security prison on the evening of Sept. 23, 2017, the night of the uprising, according to the lawsuit, but only nine guards were actually working.

According to reports from the time, the riot erupted after convicted serial killer Clifton Bloomfield convinced 22-year-old prison guard Matthew Shriner to open his cell, then took Shriner’s keys and used them to open the cells of other inmates. They then took control of the cell block for more than an hour before they were subdued with tear gas, flooding and flash grenades.

During the melee, two inmates entered Samuel Sanchez’s cell and cut his throat, nearly killing him. Sanchez, 36, said he was in segregation at the time and believes prisons guards had identified him as a “snitch,” according to the complaint.

“He was asleep in his cell when his throat was slit and bled out for well over an hour,” Sanchez’s attorney, Shannon Kennedy, said in an email Monday. “He is lucky to be alive; however, still terrified because he is been portrayed in the media as a 'snitch.’ ”

Shriner — who is named as a defendant in the complaint but could not be reached for comment late Tuesday — has been charged in state District Court with intentionally permitting Bloomfield to escape custody, unlawful rescue of a convicted capital offender and assisting in an escape.

He has filed his own lawsuit over the incident which, like Sanchez’s, accuses the state and the private prison management company GEO Group of failing to properly staff the prison.

Florida-based GEO Group ran the Clayton facility for the past decade but announced this spring it would not renew its contract with the state and the town of Clayton, citing the difficulty it faced in keeping the prison adequately staffed.

According to Sanchez’s lawsuit, the state fined GEO Group more than $1.3 million for failure to maintain minimum staffing levels at the prison between 2017 and 2018.

While there are 204 allocated positions at the facility, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the prison had a staff of only 120 in late June when GEO announced it was ending its contract. The state plans to take over operations during a three-month transitional phase, which began in August.

Corrections spokesman Eric Harrison said in an email Monday that he could not comment on Sanchez’s lawsuit because the department had not been served. He could not provide updated staffing data Monday.

“As for the Clayton staffing numbers, we are currently reworking the configuration for staffing it as a state-run facility,” Harrison wrote.

Sanchez’s lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages and plus legal costs.

©2019 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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