Prisoners’ Struggle for Medical Care Leads to Retaliation ”Albuquerque Journal
Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Shackled, hands and feet tied, during a four-hour journey between Grants and Springer, Tiffany Halona had just emerged from the operation.
Halona was a pregnant inmate last spring and, according to attorney Ryan Villa, the New Mexico prison department violated its own policies by shackling its client.
Villa said the policies were exposed in a previous litigation, but the ministry refused to recognize them in Halona’s case.
Ultimately, Villa and Halona sued the department for violations of public documents for allegedly withholding department policies regarding shackling pregnant women, video footage and more. The case is still pending and Villa said he plans to seek summary judgment in the case, which means the judge will render a decision without a trial.
Eric Harrison, the department’s public information officer, said the department is not commenting on pending litigation.
“However, the absence of comment should not be interpreted as an agreement or a stipulation to any of the claims,” he said. “As part of the NMCD’s mission, our trained professionals adhere to the mission and values of the Ministry, while continuing to provide those involved in justice with medical care and safety, and ensuring safety in the community.
At the time of the incident, Halona was being held at Springer Correctional Facility. Her high-risk pregnancy required careful medical attention, and doctors had previously warned her of the high likelihood of a miscarriage.
It was Halona’s struggle to obtain proper medical care for herself and her unborn child that led her to contact Villa. He said as soon as Halona contacted him the retaliation began. Before contacting Villa, she was struggling to get the medical care she needed.
With Villa’s help, Halona was able to get the care she needed, including surgery to remove her gallbladder. It was this operation that brought her to Grants and resulted in a chained return trip to Springer.
“I think that’s where we noticed the model… they started fighting back and disciplining her, and she had never really had a problem before,” Villa said.
When Halona was brought back to Springer, she was convicted and sanctioned for assault and battery against her unborn child. Her disciplinary report said she was playing horseshoes in the facility’s outdoor recreation area when she was supposedly bedridden after her operation. She lost about 30 days of good time credit because of it.
But Halona says she’s never played horseshoes and just went to the recreation area to talk to a friend.
But when Villa submitted a request for public records to the ministry regarding disciplinary action, including video footage of the incident, as well as ministry policies regarding shackling pregnant women, the ministry responded by saying that the records did not exist or were confidential and could not be released.
Yet when Villa was discussing the matter in court before a judge, lawyers for the department said they saw Halona in the recreation area on video of the incident – something the department previously claimed did not exist.
“Well, wait a minute. We know you have a video there, number one. Second, a lawyer told the court that this had happened, ”Villa said. “We immediately sent them a letter saying to save the video, to keep it, this is important for our litigation, not to get rid of it. I don’t know if this exists or not, but there are obviously a lot of issues going on.
It was while complaining about the case that Villa learned that Halona had been shackled on her way back to Springer after her surgery. He said he had asked to see the ministry’s policies.
“And they’re blocking us on that. They don’t want to give us the policy, ”he said. “(We) got the classic answer you get from (Corrections) – everything is confidential, all the kit and the caboodle, which the Supreme Court made clear you can’t do.”
Villa said he believed the department was trying to keep everything confidential to cover up his own misconduct.
Halona was released from prison in July 2020. She was able to get her child out of prison, and the two are happy and healthy, Villa said.
However, Villa and Halona continue to plead the case, in part to prevent this from happening again.
“I think that says they have a culture of retaliation and a lack of transparency,” Villa said. “And, rather than tackle the problem when it happens, they keep letting it happen.”