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$66,000 Jury Award in New Mexico CCA Sexual Abuse, Retaliation Case

$66,000 Jury Award in New Mexico CCA Sexual Abuse, Retaliation Case

by Matt Clarke

On November 15, 2012, a New Mexico federal jury awarded $66,000 to a woman formerly incarcerated at a prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) who alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a Correctional Medical Services (CMS) employee, then retaliated against for reporting that incident and the sexual assault of another prisoner by a CCA guard. The district court awarded over $222,000 in attorney fees and costs in 2014, and the parties subsequently entered into a settlement agreement.

Lisa Jaramillo was one of four former prisoners at the New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility, a prison in Grants, New Mexico operated by CCA, who were allegedly sexually assaulted by CMS employee Roger Bustamante and retaliated against by CCA officials for reporting incidents of sexual abuse.

Although Bustamante’s sexual misconduct was eventually “discovered” by CCA, resulting in his termination, Jaramillo and the other women claimed that many CCA and CMS employees knew about his sexual assaults long before he was fired.

Further, Kim Chavez, one of the women and a close friend of Jaramillo’s, told Jaramillo that a guard named Andrew Trujillo had sexually abused her. Soon thereafter, a female guard overheard Jaramillo calling Trujillo “crooked” and asked why she had said that. When Jaramillo explained about the alleged sexual assault of Chavez, the guard reported the incident.

In response, chief of security Robert Ulibarri had Jaramillo placed in segregation during an investigation. When Chavez was asked about the sexual assault, she was afraid that she too would be placed in segregation and face other retaliation, so she refused to cooperate. During this time, Warden Arelene Hickson visited Jaramillo in segregation, called her a liar and accused her of trying to wreck Trujillo’s marriage.

Ulibarri then filed a disciplinary charge of fraud and false statement against Jaramillo. After 69 days in isolation, Jaramillo was found guilty of the disciplinary infraction and sentenced to 60 days in segregation with no credit for the time she had already served.

Trujillo was later fired for sexually assaulting multiple prisoners, including Chavez. A re-examination of the disciplinary charge against Jaramillo led to the restoration of forfeited good conduct time, but did nothing about the 129 days she had already spent in segregation.

Assisted by Albuquerque attorneys Mark Fine and Kirtan Khalsa, Jaramillo, Chavez and two other women filed a federal lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against CCA, CMS and various prison officials alleging that the sexual assaults and retaliation violated their civil rights. At trial, only Jaramillo’s and Chavez’s claims remained. One of Jaramillo’s allegations was that the disciplinary charge and lengthy segregation were solely motivated by retaliation for her pursuit of legal action due to Bustamante’s sexual misconduct and for reporting the sexual assault by Trujillo.

The federal jury found no negligence by CCA or its employees for the sexual assaults and no retaliation against Chavez. It did, however, find that Ulibarri and Hickson had retaliated against Jaramillo. The jury awarded her $3,000 each in compensatory damages against Ulibarri and Hickson plus $40,000 in punitive damages against Ulibarri and $20,000 in punitive damages against Hickson, for a total award of $66,000.

Following the verdict, the defendants filed a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial, which was denied by the district court on March 17, 2014. The court also awarded $222,552.64 in attorney fees and costs to Jaramillo. Ulibarri and Hickson filed a notice of appeal, but dismissed their appeal in September 2014 after the parties reached a settlement. See: Jaramillo v. Hickson, U.S.D.C. (D. N.M.), Case No. 1:09-cv-00634-JCH-WDS.

Previously, in February 2012, a federal jury in New Mexico had awarded more than $3 million to three female prisoners who were sexually assaulted by Anthony Townes, a guard at the Camino Nuevo Women’s Correctional Facility, which was operated by CCA at the time. [See: PLN, April 2012, p.1].


Additional source: Albuquerque Journal


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Related legal case

Jaramillo v. Hickson