New Mexico County Jail Pays $1.5 Million to Mentally Ill Prisoner
by Derek Gilna
In February 2014, Valencia County, New Mexico agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a federal civil rights complaint alleging deliberate indifference to a prisoner’s known physical and mental illnesses.
Jan Green, 50, was arrested in July 2009 on a domestic violence complaint. Prior to her arrest, Green had been employed and maintained family ties despite battling mental health problems; she had a recurrence of anti-social behavior and was jailed at the Valencia Detention Center (VDC).
A note placed in her VDC file recommended that she be seen by a psychiatrist immediately, but instead jail staff pepper-sprayed her and placed her in solitary confinement. According to Green’s subsequent lawsuit, during the several weeks she spent at the jail prior to her release she was never examined by a psychiatrist.
Two months later she was again arrested on suspicion of committing an act of domestic violence, placed in solitary confinement and denied psychiatric treatment. According to her complaint, her “mental condition continued to deteriorate,” but after a month she was transferred to a facility in Santa Fe where she did receive proper medication and mental health care.
Unfortunately Green was later sent back to VDC, where her psychiatric condition again deteriorated, resulting in her being found incompetent to stand trial. Her daughter and other family members were not allowed to visit her during this time.
Green remained in pretrial confinement for two years and was shuttled between VDC and other facilities while her mental and physical health went largely untreated, until her family threatened legal action. She was finally transferred to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute (NMBHI), where she received an accurate diagnosis, proper psychiatric medication, and began a rapid physical and mental recovery. Although three months later she was transferred back to VDC, she continued receiving the medication prescribed at NMBHI.
Green’s lawsuit highlighted the fact that VDC was an old, outdated facility with leaky plumbing, deteriorating walls and primitive facilities, described by a county commissioner as a “hellhole.” Further aggravating the physical shortcomings of the jail was the inability or unwillingness of VDC staff to properly care for Green’s physical and mental health needs. Green accused VDC Warden Joe Chavez of a pattern of deliberately indifferent treatment during her time in custody, which extended from her arrest to the dismissal of the charges against her three years later.
Prior to agreeing to settle the case for $1.5 million, the Valencia County Board of Commissioners filed a third-party complaint against New Mexico Quickcare LLC, the estate of Dr. Blanca Badillo-Castro, and Valencia Family Medicine and Express Care, which had provided healthcare services at VDC during the time Green was incarcerated.
Evidentiary hearings were held in April and August 2015, and on September 4, 2015 a magistrate judge recommended that default judgment be entered against the third-party defendants and for the county in the amount of $1.5 million plus almost $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. A final judgment in the third-party complaint has not yet been entered, and the case remains pending. See: Green v. Chavez, U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:12-cv-01260-MCA-KBM.
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Related legal case
Green v. Chavez
|U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:12-cv-01260-MCA-KBM