Man settles federal solitary confinement lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – A New Mexico man allegedly kept in filthy solitary confinement conditions and reportedly denied proper health care while in jail has settled his federal lawsuit for $2.9 million, according to court documents.

The agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque said Otero County and Jerome Gonzales, 51, would settle the case and the southern New Mexico county would admit no wrongdoing.

But Matthew Coyte, the attorney for Gonzales, said his client suffered from mental illness and was not given proper treatment while in an Otero County isolated cell. Gonzales also was forced to use the restroom in a small drainage space in front of guards who watched him, Coyte said.

According to the lawsuit, Gonzales was placed in solitary confinement in February 2012 following an arrest for driving with a suspended license. Court documents said county officials let Gonzales’ mental state deteriorate, leading him to strip naked and cover himself in feces during his nearly three-month stint in solitary confinement.

“It’s an outrageous violation of contemporary standards of human decency,” Coyte said. “It was deplorable.”

Otero County Commission Chairman Ronny Rardin did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.

Coyte said Gonzales was permanently disabled from his experience and now needs the care of his sister for everyday activities.

The lawsuit comes after a number of other high-profile lawsuits by former inmates, which raised concerns about jail and prison conditions in New Mexico.

In 2013, Dona Ana County reached a $15.5 million settlement in a case involving a man who was held in solitary confinement for two years without a trial. The inmate man took out his own tooth during his confinement, according to the lawsuit.

Los Lunas County recently reached a $1.6 million settlement with a female inmate who said she was denied treatment for her bipolar disorder while in and out of a solitary confinement unit for two years. A sock rotted into an open wound on her foot and she was forced to sleep in a shower, the lawsuit said.

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