ACLU files sexual abuse lawsuit against NM corrections officers

The suit alleges a CO sexually assaulted and impregnated an inmate, superiors fostered a 'culture of sexual abuse'

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who allegedly was repeatedly sexually assaulted and impregnated by a guard working at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit – filed by the ACLU and attorney Corinne Holt of Will Ferguson & Associates in the 2nd Judicial District Court – alleges that former correctional officer Benny Chee sexually assaulted her. The suits also names former WNMCF warden Roberta Lucero-Ortega, Sgt. Randy Gifford and Maj. Gary Trujillo as defendants, alleging that they fostered a “culture of sexual abuse at the prison.” The woman at the center of the lawsuit is identified only as Jane Doe.

“Benny Chee used his power as a correctional officer to repeatedly sexually abuse and rape Jane Doe,” ACLU of New Mexico attorney Lalita Moskowitz said in a statement released by the organization announcing the lawsuit Monday. “She lives with the trauma of that abuse – and the trauma of being impregnated by her rapist, and suffering a frightening and painful miscarriage – every day.

“The New Mexico Corrections Department had a constitutional, legal and moral duty to protect her, and they failed to fulfill that responsibility in every conceivable way.”

This is the third lawsuit filed by the ACLU of New Mexico this year on behalf of female inmates who “suffered sexual abuse at the hands of New Mexico correctional officers.”

A lawsuit filed in April names the New Mexico Corrections Department and WNMCF as defendants. That complaint alleges that an incarcerated woman alleged she was sexually abused repeatedly by two correctional officers at the facility. Another lawsuit filed in April alleges a female inmate “suffered repeated sexual abuse” at Springer Correctional Center.

The latest lawsuit alleges Chee, the guard at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility, violated policies by bringing Jane Doe into the control room to spend time with her alone starting in December of 2017.

After “gaining her trust,” he sexually assaulted her on several occasions in February, the plaintiff alleges. Two months after Chee pleaded guilty to criminal sexual penetration in the third degree, the inmate suffered a miscarriage.

“Ms. Doe has shown tremendous courage fighting for justice in the face of intimidation and fear,” Moskowitz said. “We’re inspired by her bravery and we’re determined to do everything in our power to eradicate the culture of sexual violence that has permeated New Mexico correctional facilities.”

The New Mexico Corrections Department “cannot comment on the complaint” due to pending litigation, according to Eric Harrison, NMCD public information officer.

“However, please know that we take allegations of this nature very seriously, and NMCD is committed to upholding the National PREA Standards,” Harrison said, referring to standards established by the Prison Elimination Act to prevent, detect, reduce and punish cases of sexual assault in prisons or jails.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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