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  • mcprison mcprison May 18, 2001 8:29 PM Flag

    cover-up alleged in NM

    Albuquerque Journal

    May 18, 2001 Friday

    SECTION: NEW MEXICO; Pg. B3

    LENGTH: 581 words

    HEADLINE: Hobbs Prison Cover-Up Alleged

    BYLINE: Rene Romo Journal Southern Bureau

    4 Ex-Employees Facing Charges

    LAS CRUCES Four former employees of Wackenhut Corrections Corp. have been
    charged with crimes in connection with a Dec. 21, 1998, incident at a privately
    run prison in Hobbs.

    Two have been charged with using excessive force against an inmate and then
    covering up the incident, according to indictments returned Thursday by a
    federal grand jury here.

    The charges stem from the incident at the 1,200-bed Lea County Correctional
    Facility, run by Wackenhut, in which a guard and a supervisory lieutenant
    allegedly assaulted inmate Eric Duran and kicked the inmate repeatedly in the
    head.

    Later, the corrections officers and two other employees met in a conference
    room and allegedly agreed on a common cover story that the inmate struck one of
    the guards twice in the face with his fist and tried to bite the guard. Then,
    according to an allegedly fabricated story, a struggle with the guards followed
    and Duran fell and hit the back of his head on a window sill.

    The case was investigated by the FBI and pursued by prosecutors from the U.S.
    Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division after a complaint was filed by
    Santa Fe attorney Mark Donatelli, who has represented inmates in long-running
    federal litigation over prison conditions.

    The incident was reviewed and reported in December 1998 to Wackenhut
    officials by a Hobbs security warden who noted what appeared to be a black scuff
    mark behind Duran's right ear.

    "He (Duran) could have easily died from being kicked in the head so many
    times, and he almost did," said Donatelli, noting the inmate was flown to an
    Albuquerque hospital after the beating for treatment of his head injuries.

    Donatelli said Duran suffered permanent injuries that contributed to chronic
    headaches and impaired vision.

    "I think this will be a major step in preventing beatings of New Mexico
    prisoners in the future," Donatelli said.

    Lea County Correctional Facility Warden Joe Williams confirmed that the four
    men indicted Thursday are no longer Wackenhut employees but declined to comment
    specifically on the case because of the potential for future litigation.

    The indictment charges William Fuller, 37, of Floresville, Texas, and Gary
    Butler, 28, of Hobbs with deprivation of rights under color of law and
    conspiracy against rights for, respectively, assaulting and injuring Duran, then
    fabricating evidence that led to assault charges being filed against Duran.
    Charges of assault against Duran were later dropped, Donatelli said.

    Matias Serrata Jr., 29, of Beeville, Texas, was charged with deprivation of
    rights under color of law, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years
    imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Serrata is accused of failing to prevent
    Fuller and Butler from assaulting Duran.

    Fuller, Butler, Serrata and 25-year-old Kendall Lipscomb of Odessa, Texas,
    were all charged with conspiracy to tamper with a witness and witness tampering
    for preparing false reports and testimony to cover up the assault.

    These reports were provided to officials with the Lea County Correctional
    Facility and New Mexico State Police.

    To back up his story that Duran struck the guard in the face, Butler
    allegedly struck himself several times on the side of the face and then
    photographed his self-inflicted injuries, the indictment states.

    Lipscomb lied by saying that he tried to videotape the altercation with Duran
    but that a video camera malfunctioned, the indictment states.

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