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New Mexico Jail Settles Escapee Murder Suit For $750,000.00

In 2002, the Taos County Detention Center (TCDC) in New Mexico paid
$750,000.00 to settle a law suit filed by George Weiss, the father of
Jonathan Weiss. George Weiss claimed that the TCDC officials caused the
death of his son, by allowing a violent felon to escape from the jail
while on work detail without attempting to prevent the escape or report
the escape to the proper authorities.

Weiss' civil suit was brought against the Taos County Commissioners, Jail
Administrator Ambrose Mascarenas, Jail Guards Modesta Cisneros, Roy
Abeyta, Rick Trujillo and Marie Chacon.

On November 18, 1999, Abeyta and Trujillo took several prisoners out on
work detail. Among those prisoners was Andrew Martinez, a pretrial
detainee being held without bail on murder charges for fatally shooting
Chris Medina. Despite the serious risk that Martinez posed to the public,
Cisneros and Mascarenas allowed him to go out on work detail without being
shackled or wearing a jail uniform.

At 10:05 a.m., Abeyta allowed Martinez to leave the work detail to visit
his father, Taos County Sheriff Charlie Martinez without any supervision.
At about 10:50a.m., Abeyta left the work detail with Trujillo so he could
look for Martinez who had not returned from his visit. Abeyta was unable
to locate him and did not report that fact to the proper authorities. At
about 11:00 a.m., the decision was made to return the work detail to the
jail without Martinez. Abeyta and Trujillo did not report the escape to
their superiors when they returned to the jail.

At approximately 2:00 p.m., Cisneros and Chacon finally noticed that
Martinez was missing some four hours after he was allowed to walk away
from the work detail. The TCDC officials had violated several jail
policies by this point, and even after noticing that a violent prisoner
had escaped, they failed to notify all law enforcement agencies and only
contacted Martinez' father at the Sheriffs office.

On November 21, 1999, Martinez spotted Jonathan Weiss who was working on
the construction of his home in the Taos Canyon area near Martinez'
grandparents' cabin, where Martinez had been smoking crack cocaine for
several days. Martinez approached Jonathan Weiss, shot him in the head,
and stole his 1985 Subaru station wagon. The police found Weiss' body the
same day and identified him on November 23rd.

After learning the facts of the escape, Superior Court Judge Ellington
issued an order to show why Mascarenas should not be held in contempt of
court for the escape of Martinez. On November 22, 1999, Judge Ellington
held Mascarenas in contempt for the escape and criticized the operation of
TCDC, calling it the laughing stock of the state of New Mexico. Mascarenas
told the news media that he let the prisoners out on work detail
because "they would go crazy in there" and that he believed that Martinez'
escape was an "inside job". Martinez was captured and charged with several
crimes including the murder of Jonathan Weiss.

The Defendants chose to settle the law suit with George Weiss for obvious
reasons and gave him $750,000.00. George Weiss was represented by Robert
Rothstein and Mark Donatelli of the Santa Fe, NM law firm of Rothstein,
Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg & Enfield. See: Weiss v.
Mascarenas, USDC NM, Case No. CIVO1-461WWD.

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Related legal case

Weiss v. Mascarenas