LOS LUNASA state correctional officer who was a plaintiff in a lawsuit last year alleging dangerous conditions at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, has filed a second complaint for alleged violations of the New Mexico Whistleblower Act. 

In September 2023, Sgt. Dominic Baca was one of four plaintiffs who brought legal action against the state corrections department for conditions they say put staff and inmates at “grave” risk due to severe understaffing and failing security equipment. 

The whistleblower suit was filed by Baca on March 1, claiming that since the original lawsuit was filed, the New Mexico Corrections Department “has engaged in a campaign of intimidation against Baca and witnesses.” 

According to the March filing, one of the plaintiffs, Sonja Boucher, suffered such extreme retaliation, harassment and intimidation, she was forced to leave the department. 

Baca claims he has suffered constant harassment, intimidation and retaliation since the 2023 lawsuit culminating in a demotion from sergeant to correctional officer 1 on Jan. 12, 2024. He appealed the demotion to the New Mexico State Personnel Office.  

The whistleblower complaint claims after the 2023 complaint was filed, NMCD began pushing through a staffing matrix more dangerous than the conditions presented in the original suit. 

Sgt. Baca and the three other plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and motion for preliminary injunction on Oct. 10, 2023. They were ordered to provide all exhibits to the court by Oct. 25, 2023, two days before the hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion. 

The plaintiffs then began gathering signed, notarized affidavits from NMCD security personnel working at the Los Lunas facility. Baca claims signed and unsigned affidavits were seized by Capt. Misty Garley, who along with CNMCF Warden Jessica Vigil-Richards and others, refused to return the exhibits 

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Parrish Collins, was able to compel the return of the documents through legal filings, including an Inspection of Public Records Act, which the March filing claims was not satisfied. 

Vigil-Richards said while she cannot comment on pending litigation, she did say “our focus here is staff morale.” 

As part of the March filing, 18 signed and unsigned affidavits from staff at CNMCF detailed working conditions some described as “perilous and insecure” due to understaffing at the facility. 

Sgt. Jordin Cordova wrote in his affidavit his designated rover, who conducts essential security and welfare checks on inmates, was reassigned. 

“This rover was the sole individual assigned for these checks, which forced me to deviate from my core duties,” wrote Cordova, who has worked at the facility since 2013. 

He went on to describe how he often had to manage multiple responsibilities that would normally be done by two full-time employees, such as operating the entrance gate and verifying individuals coming in and out while at the same time managing access between inmate housing and the exterior. 

“Alongside these, I manage inmate housing transfers and releases, duties that require precision,” he wrote. “Any errors on my part would lead to disciplinary action.” 

A corrections officer 1 at CNMCF and an employee of the NMDC since April 2023, Mason Cuaron says as a mentee before attending the academy, “senior officials directed me to supervise units alone despite not being certified. This was due to staffing shortages. The fear of retaliation and possible dismissal compelled me to oblige, leading to undue stress and anxiety, which also affected my family.” 

Cuaron also writes he regularly noticed the primary entrance and exit (to the facility) remained unmanned and there were numerous instances where his colleagues were reassigned from essential positions to cover other duties. 

“Officers are often threatened with disciplinary actions or reprimands for not adhering to these demands, even when the conflict with established policies,” he wrote in his affidavit. “Inmates with mental health concerns are sometimes supervised by fellow inmates who also have mental health issues. 

“Based on my limited tenure, I believe the department’s approach to management is compromising the facility’s safety for the general public and staff. Without intervention, I foresee the situation deteriorating.” 

Sgt. Ricardo Ramirez wrote he has personally witnessed incidents where officers were injured while attempting to save an inmate’s life and were not given the opportunity to medically retire, despite injuries that have left them unable to walk properly. 

“I am deeply concerned that the shortcuts being taken by the department in terms of staffing and safety measures are putting not only the staff but also the public at risk,” Ramirez wrote. “It is not only our facility but also several other facilities across the state that are experiencing similar issues, making it clear that these problems are widespread and need urgent attention.” 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.