On Tuesday the Party for Socialism and Liberation gathered at a county commissioners meeting demanding justice for Suzie Chavez, the prison inmate assaulted by officers at Albuquerque Metropolitan Detention Center last year.
PSL candidate Sylvia Grass said the political party organized immediately after the video of Chavez’s abuse went viral a couple of weeks ago.
“I can’t explain the outrage we felt,” she said. “If torture happens even with oversight, you have to wonder how far officers could have taken Suzie’s torture.”
Grass said MDC has been under supervision for 21 years, adding that the Bernalillo County Detention Facility Management Oversight Board didn’t know about Chavez’s case until nine months after it happened. She said the board is kept in the dark on many things.
Members of the board were so upset about not being informed as to the actual number of criminal cases against MDC that they were “literally yelling” at a previous meeting, she said.
Grass said PSL wants to keep pressure on the board to ensure that Sergeant Eric Allen, the leading officer in Chavez’s case, is terminated.
Chavez, who is organizing with PSL as well, spoke at the county meeting.
She said there are instances missing from the camera footage that went viral and, although the video proves officers committed crime after crime, the video was edited to make it look like she was instigating the incident.
Chavez said she was targeted as a threat because she was given a red jumpsuit when admitted, which signifies a high-risk inmate. Her lawyer told Chavez it was a violation of her rights for prison staff to put her in red when it has been years since the offense she committed that would qualify her as high risk.
Grass said PSL’s next project is an anonymous reporting form that MDC abuse victims can fill out, and PSL can turn the information over to the county.
“We know there are a lot more cases like this,” she said.
A similar experience
UNM student Justin Allen, who was at the county meeting on Tuesday, said he was also an inmate at MDC, where Eric Allen allegedly abused him in a similar manner.
Justin Allen said he was transferred to MDC in December 2015, where prison staff refused to give him his medication for ten days.
“On the third day I banged on the door and they told me to fill out a request. So I did,” he said. Instead of turning the request into the proper department, an officer called Eric Allen to his cell.
“Sergeant Allen opened my food door to ask me what the problem was, then told me he was going to mace me for being disruptive,” he said.
Eric Allen went on to mace and laugh at him, Justin Allen said. Eric Allen then told him to turn around and shot him in the back with a Taser twice, while surrounding officers allegedly laughed at him.
Afterwards, Justin Allen said officers opened the door to put a mask on him.
Grass said spit masks are used in prison to prevent inmates from spitting on officers, but are often misused, and present choking hazards.
Chavez said a scene missing from camera footage of her mistreatment is when prison officers put a spit mask over her head, which resulted in her choking on her own vomit and having no way to remove the mask.
Chavez said at that point she lost consciousness.
Eric Allen has been abusing inmates for years, Justin Allen said, adding that no one speaks up about it because they’re afraid if they end up back in prison they’ll experience retaliation.
“In prison, you don’t want to be labeled a snitch,” he said. “You get fed to the wolves.”
Justin Allen said he is inspired by Chavez speaking out about the prison abuse she endured.
“She’s not letting the prison mentality affect her,” he said.
Justin Allen said he filed a grievance at the time of the incident with Eric Allen, but nothing came of it. He never brought the incidence up again because he thought no one would believe him.
“I’m the convict. I’m the one in jail. Who’s gonna believe me?” he said.
‘If I stay quiet, I’m part of the problem.’
Justin Allen said another reason he didn’t report the incident with Eric Allen was because he had been an inmate of the prison system for 17 years and knew the potential outcome -- or lack thereof -- of reporting abuse.
Justin Allen said he was molested by a doctor at another prison facility who was falsely checking his prostate every week, when prostate checks are supposed to only be done every two years.
Chavez and PSL discussed the misconduct of medical care at MDC while pointing to a scene in the video of Chavez’s abuse when a nurse casually steps over her motionless body as she lays unconscious on the hospital floor.
Justin Allen said the doctor who molested him in prison was finally disciplined, but it doesn’t change the suffering he endured because of it.
“As a man, I was so embarrassed. I was given a settlement to keep my mouth shut and when I got out, it destroyed my life,” he said.
Justin Allen said when he couldn’t handle the pressure, he turned to drug use.
“It’s been hard for me to talk about these things because who’s going to believe a drug addict?” he said. “You try to talk to people about it, and they look at you like you’re crazy. I know I’m not the only one who thinks this way,” he said.
Justin said he’s sober once again, and works for UNM’s Addiction and Substance Abuse Program while studying to become a counselor.
“I know I’m on the right path. I’m not going to live in fear anymore,” he said. “If I have to go back to prison one day, then so be it. If I stay quiet, I’m part of the problem."