SANTA FE The wife and three children of an inmate who was stabbed to death inside a private prison in Hobbs more than two years ago are suing prison officials over his killing.
Carla Ortega claims in a federal civil rights lawsuit that state prison officials and Wackenhut Corrections Corp., a Florida-based company that owns and operates the Lea County Correctional Facility, knowingly created dangerous conditions that led to the death of her husband, Robert Ortega.
Carla Ortega and the couple's three children are seeking compensatory, punitive and other damages to be determined by a jury. The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, names several officials as defendants, including Gov. Gary Johnson and Corrections Secretary Rob Perry.
State and Wackenhut officials said Monday they couldn't comment on pending lawsuits.
Robert Ortega, 38, was stabbed to death inside his cell with a home-made knife on Jan. 13, 1999 two days after he was transferred from the Torrance County Detention Facility to the Hobbs prison, according to the lawsuit.
Ortega was serving a 17-year sentence from Bernalillo County on drug trafficking charges.
While at the Torrance County jail, Ortega was housed in the segregation unit because of safety concerns, the suit said.
The suit further alleges that state and Wackenhut prison officials knew Ortega's life was threatened by members of a prison gang, but they failed to protect him.
Ortega was housed with general population once he was moved to the Hobbs prison, along with "his enemies" from the rival gang, the suit said.
Hobbs police said at the time that the stabbing appeared to be gang-related. Inmate Charles Aragon, 32, has been charged with Ortega's murder, and the case is still pending.
Also last month, the family of another inmate, Richard Garcia, filed a similar lawsuit against Wackenhut and other state prison officials.
Garcia, 47, was in an isolation cell June 17, 1999, when a guard opened the door to his cell in administrative segregation, allegedly allowing two inmates to enter and stab him 50 times in the back, chest, head, face and arms, officials said at the time.