The American Civil Liberties Union last week filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a New Mexico woman who alleges that a corrections officer sprayed mace on her vagina during a routine 2011 strip search.
According to the lawsuit, Marlene Tapia was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center on November 22, 2011 for a probation violation. Court records indicate the arrest was tied to a previous drug case, according to KOB-TV.
Two officers, Jennifer Stepp and Blanca Zapater, then allegedly took her to the shower to conduct a strip search.
That’s where Tapia says things took a turn for the worse.
According the lawsuit, she was ordered to “bend over at the waist while fully nude so the corrections officers could see her genital area.”
When the officers “observed a plastic baggie protruding from Ms. Tapia’s vagina” Zapater “sprayed a chemical agent directly on Ms. Tapia’s genitals twice,” the lawsuit says. It adds that Tapia was not “attempting to use any force against the corrections officers” and that Sargeant Angela Sena, who authorized the strip search, even told Zapater to stop spraying her twice.
Tapia was allegedly in pain for weeks following the incident.
“The chemical agents caused Ms. Tapia to suffer severe pain that lasted for several weeks including burning, swollen genitals, painful urination, and pain and burning on Ms. Tapia’s face,” the lawsuit says.
“It’s tantamount to torture,” Peter Simonson, the Executive Director of ACLU of New Mexico, added to KOB-TV.
[sharequote align=”center”]“It’s tantamount to torture”[/sharequote]
“It’s just the maliciousness, the wanton disregard, wanton maliciousness that the corrections officer demonstrated,” he continued to the local news outlet. “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.”
According to Simonson, jail policy only allows “chemical agents” to be used “when there is a threat to the safety of staff or inmates.”
The lawsuit further adds that, “Spraying Ms. Tapia on the genitals would not cause the baggie to become dislodged.”
According to KOB-TV, the Metropolitan Detention Center declined to comment on the specific incident, but confirmed that Zapater is still employed. They reportedly added that she was, however, disciplined following the situation regarding Tapia.
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