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ALBUQUERQUE - An inmate has sued the New Mexico Corrections Department, saying authorities retaliated against her after she reported being sexually abused by an officer in 2017.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit Tuesday on behalf of the inmate and accused prison officials of fostering “a culture that emboldens and empowers” officers to abuse women at Western New Mexico Correctional Facility – a 440-bed prison in Grants.

As a result, women serving time at the facility frequently choose not to report sexual assault because they fear their reports will not be taken seriously, the lawsuit says.

The woman who reported abuse to authorities in 2017 did so after investigators pressed her for more information about the conduct of Officer Eluid Stan Arguello, according to the lawsuit.

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But instead of protecting her, authorities revoked her phone privileges, placed her in solitary confinement and took away a year of her good time, the lawsuit states.

“What she experienced is symptomatic of the general culture and pattern within NMCD facilities of ignoring, dismissing and mishandling allegations of sexual abuse, and of retaliating against women who have the courage to report abuse,” Lalita Moskowitz, an ACLU attorney in New Mexico, said in a statement.

Interim Secretary Alisha Tafoya Lucero said the Corrections Department made sure law enforcement had all the information needed for an investigation of the matter. However, she said she could not comment on the pending litigation.

“We strive to maintain safe and secure institutions and we unequivocally commit to upholding the highest public safety standards inside and outside our institutions,” Tafoya said in a written statement.

The lawsuit was filed as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who took office in January, seeks to appoint a permanent cabinet secretary for the Corrections Department.

Arguello, who no longer works at the prison, is scheduled to stand trial in July on charges of criminal sexual penetration. He has pleaded not guilty. Michael Martinez – a former officer at the prison also accused in the lawsuit – pleaded guilty last year to the same charges.

The woman’s attorneys allege that Martinez began assaulting her after learning that Arguello had been able to do so without consequence or others knowing.

The treatment often occurred while she worked a job that paid 85 cents an hour and involved repairing roofs, pipes and sewer lines, the lawyers say.

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