Former Bernalillo County, New Mexico, Corrections Officer Sentenced for Civil Rights Violations
Demetrio Juan Gonzales, 40, a former corrections officer at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque, N.M., was sentenced today in federal court to 33 months in prison followed by three years of supervised released for violating the civil rights of an individual in his custody when he struck and choked the victim in the shower room/dress out area of MDC. Gonzales pleaded guilty in October 2012.
According to court documents, during the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2011, Gonzales was assigned to the Receiving-Discharge-Transfer (RDT) Unit at MDC where individuals are brought to be booked soon after they are arrested. Gonzales’ job was to photograph and fingerprint those who are brought to RDT for booking. The victim, who had been arrested for driving while intoxicated, was verbally uncooperative during the booking process, but was not a physical threat to anyone. Nonetheless, Gonzales became angry at the victim and walked him to the shower room/dress out area where he knew there were no surveillance cameras. Several other corrections officers followed Gonzales to the shower room/dress out area. There, Gonzales physically assaulted the victim, striking him multiple times, and choking him. As a result of Gonzales’ actions, the victim started bleeding. Gonzales acknowledged that the victim did nothing to justify the beating, and as a corrections officer, he was not permitted to assault inmates just because they angered him.
“Corrections officers who abuse their authority by physically assaulting prisoners undermine the foundations of the rule of law and violate basic constitutional guarantees that protect every person in America,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice and the Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively prosecute civil rights violations that occur in our jails and prisons.”
“We depend on the guards in our prison system not only to do an important job, but also to carry out their duties in a way that respects their positions of authority, the law and ultimately the population they supervise,” said Kenneth J. Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “Abuses of authority, under any circumstances, have no place in our prison system and will not be tolerated.”
“Our citizens have the right to expect their corrections officers to act legally and in accordance with the Constitution,” said Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI. “We hope today's sentencing serves as a reminder to all public servants that nobody is above the law. The Albuquerque FBI Division will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate all allegations of civil rights violations. I want to thank the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division for their support in this case. I also want to acknowledge the assistance given to the FBI by the Metropolitan Detention Center's executive management and internal affairs staff and the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office.”
Fellow former MDC corrections officers Kevin Casaus, 24, and Matthew Pendley, 26, were indicted by a federal grand jury in June 2012, and are awaiting trial on charges related to this assault. Casaus is charged with violating the victim’s civil right rights when he allegedly shoved and struck the victim while in the shower area/dress out area. Casaus is further charged with obstruction of justice and falsification of records, first for making false statements to detectives of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and then for falsifying his incident report. Similarly, Matthew Pendley is also charged with obstruction of justice for making false statements to BCSO detectives, and also for tampering with evidence by cleaning up blood from the shower room/dress out area. Casaus and Pendley are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark T. Baker for the District of New Mexico and Trial Attorney Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.