Lawsuit Claims Bernalillo County Corrections Officer Used Excessive Force in Violation of Inmate's Constitutional Rights
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a woman who claims a Bernalillo County corrections officer used excessive force on her during a 2011 strip search. According to the complaint filed in Tapia v. Zapater, Marlene Tapia was arrested and taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center for an alleged probation violation. Upon Tapia's arrival, she was strip searched and a baggie was purportedly discovered protruding from her genitalia. Rather than consulting a doctor, one of the corrections employees, Blanca Zapater, allegedly used pepper spray on Tapia's bare genitals twice. During the encounter, another corrections officer, Sargeant Angela Sena, reportedly told Zapater to stop more than once and finally took the mace from her hand.
Tapia claims she suffered swelling, burning, and pain in her genital area for weeks after the incident. In her complaint, she accuses Zapater of engaging in malicious, wanton disregard for her rights as well as her physical well-being. Tapia stated she fully complied with all officer requests and did nothing to merit the use of a chemical agent on her person. Detention Center policy states mace may not be used on an inmate unless he or she poses a safety threat to staff or other prisoners. Although Zapater was apparently disciplined for the pepper spray incident, she is still currently employed at the facility.
In her lawsuit, Tapia claims Zapater violated her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment Constitutional rights as well as sections of the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. She seeks damages for her suffering and personal injuries, attorneys' fees, and punitive damages to deter similar cruel and unusual behavior in the future.