Sandoval County is handling two lawsuits related to the alleged mistreatment of mentally ill female inmates at the Sandoval County Detention Center.
One case is nearly resolved, while the other is in its early stages.
The Albuquerque Journal earlier this summer reported that allegations of the abuse and neglect of a mentally ill inmate, Sharon Vanwagner, resulted in a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal district court on June 17.
The allegations in the 42-page complaint state that Vanwagner, suffering from psychosis and delusions, was kept for months in solitary confinement in a constantly lit cell, naked except for a “suicide smock,” and was not given emergency medical help.
Vanwagner’s attorney, Jack Jacks, told the Observer that county defendants have been served with the complaint and that medical employees employed at a private company have also been served via their organization.
They are required to admit or deny the allegations contained in the complaint. Jacks said those served have a duty to answer in good faith.
“I am optimistic about the case moving forward,” Jacks said.
He said the allegations are derived almost entirely from the jail’s own records.
“When a person is taken into custody, you hold someone to the expectation that they treat them with common decency and humanity,” Jacks said. “The Sandoval County jail simply did not.”
The detention center is a holding facility for pre-trial detainees and individuals sentenced to serve less than a year for minor offenses. Detention center inmates convicted in court must be sent to a state or federal facility to serve their sentence.
After responses are made to the allegations, a scheduling conference will be set up with a federal magistrate judge.
Jacks disclosed that some facts in Vanwagner’s case were discovered through another of his cases: that of 39-year-old Raynbow Gignilliat, a mentally ill woman held at the detention center after being arrested on minor charges in Rio Rancho.
A mother of three, Gignilliat was placed in solitary confinement and was allegedly ignored and mistreated while her mental state deteriorated rapidly.
Her family filed a federal lawsuit after she committed suicide after her release in June 2014. It seeks an unspecified amount in damages and legal fees.
Gignilliat’s case is in its final stages.
“We have completed the majority of discovery and have obtained depositions from all the defendants and witnesses in the case,” Jacks said.
A mediation is scheduled this month to allow opposing parties to find common ground for a resolution. If the mediation is successful, the case may be resolved at the end of August.
Jacks said he hopes the lawsuits will improve conditions for inmates with mental health problems.
“The underlying hope is moving beyond whatever result happens … and that the jail and the county take a serious look at how they can reform what has been happening at the jail for what I suspect is years,” Jacks said.
County spokesman Sidney Hill told the Observer that the county cannot comment about matters that are in litigation.