In February 2019, NMPJP filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of two women incarcerated in what is described as a rodent infested prison in Grants. Now NMPJP has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of former prison employee Nicole Ramirez, who shares her story about being harassed and threatened by leadership at the prison after filing a written complaint about the infestation. Courtesy photo
In February 2021, the New Mexico Prison & Jail Project (NMPJP) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Susie Zapata and Monica Garcia, two inmates whose civil rights were violated because of their exposure to an extensive rodent infestation at the women’s prison in Grants.
In response to media coverage of the lawsuit, a former employee at the prison, Nicole Ramirez, contacted NMPJP to share her story about being harassed and threatened by leadership at the women’s prison after she filed a written complaint about the infestation. NMPJP is filing a lawsuit on her behalf under New Mexico’s Whistleblower Protection Act.
“Nicole is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who worked at the women’s prison as a Mental Health Clinician,” NMPJP steering committee member Matthew Coyte said. “As soon as she started her job at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in December 2019, inmates started telling her about the horrifying rodent infestation. They told her they sometimes found rodent feces in their food. Ramirez believed she had a professional responsibility to report the infestation because of the ongoing threat it posed to the physical and mental health of the women incarcerated at the prison.”
She filed a written complaint with the New Mexico Corrections Department’s Office of Professional Standards, the agency responsible for investigating misconduct by Corrections Department staff. She was immediately called into the office of the Deputy Warden at the prison, who told both her and her supervisor that she would need to be disciplined for filing the complaint.
The next couple months were a nightmare. Ramirez learned from inmates that prison staff were trying to manufacture misconduct by her so she could be fired. Her security card to the prison mysteriously stopped working. She began to feel physically unsafe coming to work. Eventually, she decided she needed to resign.
“This is a textbook violation of our Whistleblower Protection Act,” NMPJP Director Steven Robert Allen said. “We’re grateful that people like Nicole have the courage to come forward and report on problems they see in our prisons and jails. She should have been commended for her actions. Instead, leadership at the women’s prison retaliated against her. We’re filing this lawsuit so that Nicole and others like her will be able to do the right thing without being punished for it.”
NMPJP is filing a related lawsuit against the New Mexico Corrections Department for violating New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act by failing to provide Nicole’s written complaint in response to a request for public records addressing the rodent infestation.