Phaedra Haywood

Allegations of guards sexually assaulting prisoners at the state-run women’s prison in Springer continue to mount.

Albuquerque attorneys representing several inmates who say they’ve been sexually assaulted at the facility have filed another complaint in federal court, saying a supervisor who still works there turned a blind eye while a former guard sexually assaulted their client and other women.

The New Mexican is not naming the plaintiff because she is making allegations of sexual assault.

Chief of Security Robert Gonzales — who was also the prison’s acting warden when some of the alleged assaults occurred — and former corrections officer Christopher Padilla have been named as defendants in at least two other lawsuits, including one filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico.

“Gonzales knew Padilla had a predilection for abusing inmates,” the complaint says, but “actively facilitated” Padilla’s abuse of more inmates by whitewashing his prior abuse of prisoners.

Neither man could be reached for comment.

The plaintiff says in her complaint that officials at the Springer Correctional Center knew based on a 2015 background check that Padilla had been accused of inappropriately touching a child in California before coming to New Mexico but hired him anyway.

Since then, the lawsuit says, at least seven prisoners have accused Padilla of sexually assaulting them at the sprawling 22-building facility in the northwest corner of the state. The suit says some of the alleged assaults occurred in his office, a boiler room and a shed.

New Mexico State Police documented one prisoner’s allegations in 2016. As chief of security, Gonzales “was unquestionably aware of the allegations,” but did not discipline or reassign Padilla and even promoted him to a supervisory position, according to the suit.

In March 2017, when state police were investigating another claim against Padilla, the complaint says, Gonzales told the reporting officer he “had never had any problems or issues with Padilla” in the past.

Another inmate made similar allegations against Padilla later that month, the complaint says.

“Gonzales could not have missed the familiar pattern repeating itself in these allegations,” the lawsuit says. “Padilla would groom the inmates he supervised, would bribe them with food and other goods in exchange for sexual favors and took advantage of his knowledge of the facility and access to private locations to assault them in private and outside the view of the facility’s cameras.”

From October 2018 to March 2019, Padilla repeatedly sexually assaulted the plaintiff, touching her body, masturbating in front of her, making vulgar comments and forcing her to perform oral sex in exchange for food and cigarettes, the lawsuit says.

To discourage her from reporting the assaults, the lawsuit says, Padilla told the woman he had “beaten six PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] complaints” made by other inmates and said his military training had prepared him to beat polygraph tests, “meaning that she would never be able to prove that he had abused her.”

Prison officials learned about the accusations in August 2019 — after the woman had been released and incarcerated on a parole violation at the women’s prison in Grants — while monitoring one of her phone calls.

Prison officials opened an investigation, the lawsuit says, and Padilla and the plaintiff were administered polygraph exams.

Padilla failed the test, the lawsuit says. The inmate passed, her allegations were substantiated and, in February 2020, Padilla was terminated.

New Mexico Corrections Department spokesman Eric Harrison confirmed Gonzales is still employed at the prison, but said in an email “the department will not comment on active litigation.”

The plaintiff is accusing Padilla and Gonzales of subjecting her to cruel and unusual punishment and suing Gonzales for negligent operation of a public facility.

She is seeking a jury trial and an unspecified amount in damages.