HEADLINE: Guards convicted in violating inmate's civil rights
DATELINE: ROSWELL, N.M.
Two ex-guards from a privately run Hobbs prison were convicted Friday of civil rights violations in the 1998 beating of an inmate and of conspiring with a third guard to cover it up.
Lt. Matias Serrata, Lt. William Fuller and Kendall Lipscomb of Wackenhut Corrections Corp. were all found guilty of obstructing justice with the cover-up and of conspiring to obstruct justice. Serrata and Fuller also were convicted of violating the civil rights of inmate Eric Duran, who was kicked several times in the head.
A fourth guard, Gary Butler, who had pleaded guilty earlier to civil rights and conspiracy charges, testified that he had hit himself in the face at the suggestion of Fuller, then went to Hobbs police with a story that the inmate had attacked him.
"Those who we trust to enforce the law have one of the most difficult and important of all jobs," U.S. Attorney David Iglesias said in a statement released Friday. "When anyone in such a position violates the rights of others, they not only injure the individual but they also injure the vast majority of law enforcement officers who perform their duties with honor."
Defense attorney Mario Esparza said he "definitely" plans to appeal.
"This, I think, really was a classic case of selective prosecution," said Esparza, representing Serrata, who was accused of allowing the beating to proceed.
The beating happened after Duran refused to sit in an assigned seat in the prison dining hall and got in an argument with Lipscomb and another guard, Justice Department attorneys said in court records.
Esparza said Serrata was singled out because he is a lieutenant. He said Serrata never saw the beating and did not permit it. Meanwhile, he said, four or five other guards were in better positions to see - and did see - what happened and were not charged.
Furthermore, there were at least four or five guards who were in position to stop the beating and who did nothing and also were not charged, Esparza said.
The warden wrote a letter stating that Serrata was not in position to have seen what happened.
Serrata had said the incident happened within 30 or 40 seconds while a riot was going on in an adjoining dining area.
The Lea County Correctional Facility, which holds up to 1,200 inmates, is run by Wackenhut.