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New Mexico County Officials Settle Jail Prisoner’s Suit for $750,000

A man who was incarcerated in a New Mexico jail for 18 days settled his lawsuit against county commissioners and jail officials for $750,000 in December 2015.

Michael Faziani, who lives in Tennessee, moved temporarily to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico to receive treatment for his severe back pain under the supervision of a local physician. Soon after he arrived, Faziani’s car scraped a metal post while he negotiated a McDonald’s drive through. A week later he was involved in a serious rollover accident and prescribed narcotic pain medication for the injuries he received.

Four days after the rollover accident, Truth or Consequences police officer Leonard Stufflebean arrested Faziani for failing to timely report the accidents. Both charges were misdemeanors.

Faziani was booked into the Sierra County Detention Facility. He was held without being allowed to see a magistrate for 18 days, and the judge who finally saw him ordered his immediate release.

While incarcerated, Faziani, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, did not receive medication for his pain or mental illness. Instead, because he had truthfully reported a serious psychiatric condition during booking, he was placed in an isolation cell. While in segregation he was denied his medication, showers and even a toothbrush. His mental and physical condition deteriorated.

Faziani noticed that jail guards who were responsible for passing out the prisoners’ medications pilfered the narcotics and exchanged the stolen pills for sexual favors from female prisoners. Those same guards allegedly stole Faziani’s medications and used them to get high or exchanged them for sex.

Following his release, the charges against Faziani were dropped. With the assistance of Albuquerque attorney Matthew E. Coyle, Faziani filed a federal civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights and false imprisonment. The lawsuit named Stufflebean, two jail guards, a ranking guard, a jail administrator and their employer – the Sierra County Board of County Commissioners – as defendants. Court documents contained specific allegations of widespread corruption at the jail.

According to Coyle, the Sierra County Sheriff’s Office was investigated based on claims made by a whistleblower. Several jailers were arrested, including Lt. Virgil Easton, 39, charged with two felony counts of criminal sexual penetration and five counts of battery; he pleaded guilty in September 2016. Miguel Herrera, 23, pleaded no contest to two counts of criminal sexual penetration and guilty to two similar counts, while another guard, Joshua Corley, 24, pleaded guilty to charges that included smuggling contraband, criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual contact and indecent exposure. [See: PLN, Sept. 2015, p.63].

“Mr. Faziani was held in solitary confinement for approximately 18 days in conditions that were inhumane,” said Coyle, who noted his client required hospitalization for severe depression following his incarceration and continued to suffer from PTSD. “Mr. Faziani was one of many victims of this corrupt facility,” he added. See: Faziani v. Sierra County Board of County Commissioners, U.S.D.C. (D. N.M.), Case No. 2:14-cv-00592-MJB-CG.

Additional sources:, Albuquerque Journal

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Related legal case

Faziani v. Sierra County Board of County Commissioners