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New Mexico Medical Technician Wins $150,000 Jury Award for Abuse by Jailers

by Ed Lyon

Estrella Tenorio was a nurse’s aide/medical technician employed by for-profit contractor HealthCare Partners, Inc. (HCP). HCP specializes in providing medical services to prisoners. Tenorio’s first assignment was at a jail located near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Her mother was a state prison employee and her father had previously worked at the same jail. 

After completing her shift on May 11, 2013, Tenorio entered the facility’s master control room to leave paperwork with jailers Joey Romero and Matthew Borrego. The two men decided to handcuff her to a chair. They later released her, only to try re-cuffing her. During that struggle jailer Antonio Padilla and supervisor Elfigo Sandoval entered the control room and joined in the fray. Tenorio was cuffed to a toilet and then to another chair that she managed to scoot out into the hallway, in view of a video camera. She was eventually released and left injured and bruised from her unlawful restraint by the guards. 

“It wasn’t horseplay. It wasn’t joking around,” Tenorio stated. “I was fighting to get them off of me.... I was touched everywhere, between my thighs up to my chest. They were in my face. I could feel them breathing on my neck.”

She didn’t report what happened due to fear of retaliation. 

“I couldn’t lose my job,” she said. “I needed that income, and I had seen that done there before.”

Nearly a month later the incident came to light and was investigated. When questioned, Tenorio made a truthful statement that was presumably verified by the hallway video footage, which promptly vanished. 

Immediately afterwards, many of Tenorio’s co-workers began disparaging her behind her back and shunning her to her face. HCP reassigned her to a facility in Colorado, beyond her capability to commute to and from work, which forced her to quit. 

“I got more respect from the inmates that [sic] I did from some of my co-workers, and that’s the truth,” she stated.

Albuquerque attorney Carolyn M. Nichols filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 suit on Tenorio’s behalf in federal district court, alleging both federal and state law causes of action. Even without the missing hallway video, on September 28, 2018 the jury found in Tenorio’s favor, awarding her $50,000 in compensatory damages, $34,000 in punitive damages against Sandoval, and $33,000 each in punitive damages against Romero and Borrego, for a total of $150,000. 

Additionally, Tenorio’s attorneys have filed a motion seeking $610,460.02 in fees and costs plus gross receipt taxes. That motion remains pending. See: Tenorio v. San Miguel County Detention Center,U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. l:15-cv-00349-LF-JHR.

According to an October 2018 news report, the New Mexico Association of Counties said it had paid around $195,000 in legal fees defending San Miguel County in the case. 


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Related legal case

Tenorio v. San Miguel County Detention Center