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.