Former NM CO accused of abetting inmate sues state

The former officer claims in a lawsuit that he had been forced to work alone in the prison’s restricted housing unit despite being ill and untrained

By Phaedra Haywood
The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE — Matthew Shriner says it wasn’t his fault. While the state accuses the former prison guard of intentionally helping an inmate get out of his cell before the prisoner caused havoc at the Northeast New Mexico Detention Facility, Shriner claims in a lawsuit that he had been forced to work alone in the prison’s restricted housing unit despite being ill and untrained.

Shriner, who was 22 at the time of the violent September 2017 incident near Clayton, says in his complaint he was forced to work solo in the cellblock where “the most hardened dangerous criminals in the facility” are held “when he was sick, exhausted from overwork, uncertified, not properly trained, and inexperienced in corrections security.”

Shriner says in his complaint he was “tricked” by Clifton Bloomfield — an inmate convicted of murdering five people in Albuquerque — into opening Bloomfield’s cell, then Bloomfield assaulted him.

According to a July 2018 report by KRQE News 13, Bloomfield took Shriner’s keys and used them to open the cells of other inmates who then took control of the cellblock for more than an hour before they were subdued with the use of tear gas, flooding and flash grenades.

According to video aired by the TV station, Shriner was able to escape and call for help, but before order was restored someone slashed the throat of another inmate who was later found unconscious in a pool of blood on his cell floor.

Shriner is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Magistrate Court in Clayton on charges of unlawful rescue and assisting escape that were filed earlier this month.

Bloomfield has been charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery.

Shriner names as defendants in his lawsuit the state Corrections Department, Corrections Secretary David Jablonski, Warden Mark Bowen, Lt. Randall Thomas, and the GEO Group, the Florida-based company that operates the prison for the state.

Shriner, who was working the cellblock without a weapon or radio, claims the Department of Corrections failed to monitor the performance of GEO Group and that the private prison contractor failed to train its employees or comply with the terms of its contract. Both entities failed, he says, to ensure that dangerous inmates like Bloomfield were controlled at all times by certified officers and adequate safety equipment.

“GEO covered up the riot, and constructively discharged plaintiff in a wrongful manner,” the lawsuit asserts, claiming that Shriner’s immediate supervisor “was not meaningfully disciplined, although his conduct is what caused the riot.”

Shriner, who also accuses the defendants of defamation and breach of contract, seeks compensatory damages including back pay, medical expenses and emotional distress, as well as punitive damages against GEO Group.

GEO Group did not respond Friday to an email seeking comment for this story.

Corrections Department spokesman S.U. Mahesh said the department had not been served with the lawsuit yet and couldn’t comment on the allegations.

Jablonski told KRQE in July there were supposed to be 20 guards on duty the night the riot, but in reality there were only nine.

“I was extremely outraged that these breaches occurred under our watch,” Jablonski said before placing the blame on Shriner. “The decision that officer made that evening really jeopardized the safety of the whole facility and it could have been a lot worse.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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