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Attorney Seeks Answers in Aftermath of New Mexico Riot

Prisoners at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in Cibola County staged a riot on April 27, 2001. The prisoners reportedly set small fires and backed up toilets after refusing to return to their cells for an evening lockdown. Prison guards allegedly regained control of the unit when they used tear gas on the 63 prisoners said to have been involved in the incident. Officials are claiming that there were no injuries resulting from the incident. However, in its aftermath, there are conflicting theories as to the motivation behind the riot.

Prison officials claim that the riot began after the prisoners became angry over a lack of water pressure. There was no further explanation forthcoming as to why prison officials believe that low water pressure was sufficient enough to spark the riot.

An attorney representing the prisoners in a class action suit, Mark Donatelli, theorizes that the riot was the result of the overcrowded conditions to which the prisoners are being subjected. If Donatelli's theory is correct, the state could be in violation of a federal consent decree that was lifted because the state has been in compliance for several years. It would also help to explain how something as mundane as low water pressure could spark a riot. While Donatelli said he has the obligation to investigate whether overcrowding indeed was at the root of the riot, Corrections Secretary Rob Perry asserted that Donatelli doesn't have the right to interview the 63 prisoners allegedly involved in the riot.

Perry went on to say, "We're not going to let New Mexico prisons become the clientrecruiting ground for Mark Donatelli." Even though the Corrections Department is no longer operating under most of the provisions of the Duran Consent Decree that mandated federal oversight of prisons, as part of a settlement of the Duran case, the state is still obligated to follow restrictions on overcrowding, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican .

Donatelli is asking U.S. District Judge John Conway to force Corrections to provide him with a list of prisoners involved and their current locations; he also wants all investigative reports and memos stemming from the riot.

"At minimum, counsel for the plaintiffs are obligated to investigate the recent disturbance in light of the information available to them and determine whether the requests for additional injunctive relief are necessary," Donatelli's motion says.

Source: The Santa Fe New Mexican .

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