Albuquerque, NM — Video of an incident at the Metropolitan Detention Center from September last year has been described as “troubling” by Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, but a more honest assessment would deem what happened to inmate Susie Chavez akin to torture.
“Put her in a wrist lock,” Sgt. Eric Allen coldly and evenly tells guards as Chavez lies sobbing on the jail floor, “and twist her wrist until she shuts up and stops crying.”
Common sense ordinarily dictates inflicting yet more painful tactics against someone writhing in pain would only serve to amplify their cries — but this is jail, and police logic doesn’t tend to follow common sense.
So the guards proceed to follow their superior’s orders — and, as expected, the petite Chavez screams at the excruciating pain now surging through her wrist. Allen, however, seems nonplussed — though equally determined to continue finding cruel and painful methods to force the inmate into silence.
“You’re going to break my fucking wrist, bitch,” Chavez yells in agony.
For the duration of the 45-minute video obtained by the Albuquerque Journal under the Inspection of Public Records Act, Chavez endures a series of control methods, including mace to her eyes, under the supervision of the apparently callous Allen and his eagerly compliant guards — one, a female.
Video chillingly comes from Allen’s perspective, thanks to his body-worn camera — giving the torturous events the quality of a nightmarish horror film — particularly when he briefly parts from the others to retrieve something from his office, and can be heard whistling.
Sgt. Allen, the Journal explains, is under investigation and has been on leave since July, according to county and union officials. Alarmingly, as vice president of the jail officers’ union and frontline supervisor at the jail, he has trained other officers in the use of force.
Lt. Stephen Perkins, president of the same union, claims none of the officers in the video did anything wrong, because it’s standard operating procedure to employ the force necessary to quiet an inmate if their disturbance — in Chavez’ case, screams of agony — prevents them from hearing and thus following commands.
Numerous times, Chavez pleads with officers to stop hurting her — at one point, even boldly proclaiming their actions are excessive.
As the female jailer keeps Chavez restrained to the point she’s forced to walk down a lengthy hallway bent over at the waist, Allen repeats threats that if she continues crying uncontrollably,
“You’re gonna get maced.”
“What did I do?” she sobs.
“Last warning,” Allen calmly intones, before going into the office briefly.
When he returns, the officers lead bent-over Chavez down a hall to medical, but she continues sobbing.
“Stop. Crying,” he demands.
Eventually, they stop, facing the inmate to the wall. Allen again gives her a “last warning” she’s about to be maced.
“Is it because I cry you’re going to mace me?” Chavez asks, perplexed.
“Yes,” the female officer flatly responds.
Allen, fed up, has the officer bring her onto the ground.
“What did I do?” Chavez yells.
“You won’t shut up,” Allen finally raises his voice.
Echoing the sergeant, the female officer says, “We need you to be quiet.”
Finally free except for handcuffs, as Chavez lies on the hallway floor, she tries to reason with the guards, saying,
“But you’re using excessive force.”
“Now you’re gettin’ into stuff where we’re going to hurt you over— you need to be quiet,” Allen threatens.
Chavez begins slamming her head against the ground and officers finally use the mace they’ve threatened.
She begins crying again.
“Clearly, you need to reconsider your choices in life if this is how you’re going to react when you get maced,” Allen coldly lectures her later.
Though officials claim policies were not broken during the incident, in December private investigators hired by the county found the jail appeared to have no standards in place for use of force — as well as discrepancies among trainers about precisely what is supposed to be taught.
Requests for documentation on use-of-force policy and investigations to explain this incident by the Journal went unanswered.
According to the Journal, Chavez later explained the distressing incident happened after jailers found posters on the wall of her cell — something Perkins says can be used to hide contraband, and thus are not permitted.
Footage begins with Chavez told to face the wall outside her cell, and as she crouches down, one officer seems to pull the inmate up by her long hair. Officers then use a stun gun, and she falls to the ground.
Later, the Journal reported, Allen “tells a colleague that officers used a ‘drive stun’ on Chavez a couple of times. That’s a technique in which the stun gun is pressed directly against the subject and activated to cause pain.”
Can it be any wonder Chavez sobs and screams throughout the entire video?
Further, as the Journal notes, Allen has a history of excessive force against inmates.
Although he’s been a corrections officer since 2003, the county terminated him under those allegations in 2008, after a male inmate accused Allen of punching him twice in the head.
The union retorted the inmate threw the first punch.
Due to “gross discrepancies” in the jail’s use-of-force policy — which matched the guard’s training and were thus reasonable — an independent arbitrator forced the county to reinstate the officer in 2009.
Officers are now being retrained in the use of force.
“In my inexpert opinion,” Johnson, the County Commissioner, advised, “whenever you see someone in distress like that and kind of the casual disregard for that distress — and even casual use of force — it’s always going to make you nervous and trouble you.”
Particularly considering the sickening incident was spawned by posters on Chavez’ cell wall. Particularly considering this isn’t Allen’s first time in hot water over treating inmates like things to be forcefully controlled.
Particularly since the union finds nothing whatsoever untoward about a policy that would not only allow, but condone such behavior as standard practice.
Law enforcement in the U.S. has become a violent game of deception — as officers and their departments attempt to gloss over brutal incidents like this, thinking the public somehow either won’t find out how they operate — or simply won’t care.