Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

New Mexico: $50,000 Settlement For False Arrest, Unconstitutional Strip Search

In the week of January 1, 2001, a lawsuit alleging false arrest and an
unconstitutional strip search in retaliation for supporting a particular
candidate for district attorney settled for $50,000.

In 1999, while attending Gallup High School, Emily Ellison was actively
supporting Navajo causes and candidates for the 2000 elections in McKinley
County. On September 12, 1999, Ellison was cited for speeding 11 to 15
miles per hour over the limit and not carrying proof of financial
responsibility. Ellison later appeared before Judge Karl Gillson and filed
a demand for jury trial, which the judge granted. When McKinley County
District Attorney Mary Helen Baber and her two assistants, Michael Sanchez
and Gerald Byers, learned of Ellison's request for a jury trial, they
allegedly decided to use the power of the state to punish her for
supporting Baber's competition for district attorney.

On November 5, 1999, Ellison received a second ticket for speeding 1 to 10
miles per hour over the limit. The case was assigned to Judge Rhoda Hunt
but Ellison initially appeared before Judge Gillson. She pled not guilty
and requested postponement of the bench trial until after Christmas break
so she could go out of town to look at colleges. Judge Gillson entered her
plea and agreed to schedule a bench trial when she returned. Due to a
supposed clerical oversight, however, neither the plea agreement nor the
postponement was recorded in the court record. As a result Judge Hunt
issued an erroneous bench warrant on January 11, 2000.

On February 9, 2000, the district attorney's office took the highly
unorthodox action of sending a state police officer to arrest Ellison at
her high school, but Ellison was not in attendance that day. The next day
Ellison appeared at the courthouse for a hearing on her motion to suppress
radar evidence. When Sanchez and Byers saw Ellison they had her taken into
custody so an arrest would appear on her record. Sanchez then reportedly
followed Ellison to the McKinley County Adult Detention Center, which is
operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a private company.
At the jail Sanchez allegedly told the guards to go the whole nine yards,
which included performing a strip and body cavity search, confiscating her
clothes, and dressing her in an orange jail jumpsuit. Afterwards Ellison
was handcuffed and taken to the courthouse, where Judge John Carey
recognized Ellison's treatment was not standard procedure, quashed the
warrant, and ordered her immediately released.

Ellison sued MTC, the county, Baber, Sanchez, Byers, and others in the U.S.
District Court for the District of New Mexico under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
New Mexico tort law. She alleged, among other things, false arrest and
imprisonment, assault, malicious prosecution, abuse of process,
unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, slander,
defamation of character, and violations of her rights to due process,
freedom of speech, and freedom of association.

The suit settled for a confidential amount, rumored to be approximately
$50,000, prior to trial. Ellison was represented by Elicia Montoya of the
Albuquerque firm McGinn & Carpenter. See: Ellison v. Management & Training
Corporation, USDC D NM, Case No. 00cv00254.
Source: The Blue Sheet of New Mexico

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Ellison v. Management and Training Corporation