Attorneys for the New Mexico Corrections Department and 422 inmates have agreed to settle the so-called ‘Nuts to Butts’ class action lawsuit for $750,000.
Prison inmates, featured in a Santa Fe Reporter cover story in April, had complained they were forced to straddle other inmates inside the Central New Mexico Correctional facility in Los Lunas on multiple occasions between June 2009 and Jan. 2010.
The lawsuit alleged then-Warden Anthony Romero and other prison employees and department officials had “orchestrated a practice of taking inmates during facility shakedowns to the gymnasium and lining them in rows straddling each other dressed only in their boxer shorts.”
Inmates say they were then ordered to sit so closely their genitals were in contact with the rear of the man seated in front of them.
Before agreeing to settle the federal lawsuit, inmates also won a concession from administrators to adopt a policy that will prohibit the seating practice in the future.
“No inmate shall be made to sit straddling another inmate with less than approximately one foot gap between the inmates,” the new policy states.
Plaintiffs lead Attorney Matthew Coyte tells SFR the agreement proves what happened to the inmates in Los Lunas was wrong and he’s pleased “the new policy will ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
In April, SFR discovered the inmates’ original grievances had been lost and video tape and pictures were not saved according to the department’s “major disturbance reporting” policies.
Inmates will receive compensation based on the number of times they were seated nuts to butts. Inmates who sat through one incident will be paid $528. Two-time victims will be compensated $1,057. Others who sat through the controversial shakedowns three and four times will be given $1,586 and $2,114 respectively.
The agreement stipulates that six named inmates will be awarded $10,000 each for “the additional burdens of actively participating in the litigation, taking part in the discovery process including depositions, being exposed to the risk of retaliation, and for the loss of anonymity with the attending publicity associated with the case.”
The lawsuit included $250,000 for attorney fees and another $27,683 for costs and sales taxes. Class Administration Company Gilardi & Co. LLC. will receive $17,162.
A fairness hearing will be scheduled after a judge reviews and approves the preliminary settlement.
Stephen French, an attorney representing the Corrections Department stipulated in the agreement that it was a fair settlement, but that his clients did not admit to any wrongdoing or violation of any laws. Correction officials say they can't comment on the settlement until it is final.