According to a report from KOB Eyewitness News 4, the ACLU is suing on behalf of a New Mexico woman who claims to have had her genitals maced during a strip search conducted by a Bernalillo County corrections officer.
Court records indicate that the woman in question, Marlene Tapia, was initially arrested for violating a probation order connected to a previous drug case. While Tapia was at the Metropolitan Detention Center, two officers strip-searched her. During the search they saw a plastic bag protruding from Tapia's genitals — but instead of taking her to the doctor to have the bag removed, Tapia says, one of the officers, Blanca Zapater, sprayed her genitals twice with mace.
“It’s tantamount to torture,” Peter Simonson, the executive director of ACLU of New Mexico, said in an interview with KOB Eyewitness News 4. “It’s just the maliciousness, the wanton disregard, wanton maliciousness that the corrections officer demonstrated. This is the kind of chemical that is intended to be sprayed on other parts of the body, to cause pain, but to spray it on the very most sensitive part of a person’s body only doubles the pain.”
Simonson believes that the officer not only violated basic Constitutional rights, but jail policy as well.
The policy states that “Chemical agents are only used when there is a threat to the safety of staff or inmates.”
Simonson said Tapia was cooperative with officers.
“Our client did not resist the corrections officers, she didn’t give them fight,” he said.
Staff at the Metropolitan Detention Center declined to comment on the case, but confirmed that the Zapater is still on staff after she was hired in November 2008.
According to the lawsuit, Zapater was disciplined for the situation involving Tapia.
Simonson said the ACLU is not seeking compensation on the case because the organization never does. Instead, he said his staff wants to make sure our country’s Constitutional freedoms and protections apply to everybody – including the people accused of a crime.
“We do it so we can ensure that these sorts of things don’t happen to another person,” he said.
Watch the KOB news segment below: