BRAVO v. BOARD of COMMISSIONERS of DONA ANA COUNTY
Filed in federal court in New Mexico, Bravo challenges the lack of mental health services and release planning in the county jail and discriminatory arrest practices by local law enforcement officers. According to the complaint, 30-40% of the approximately 900 detainees crowded into the 850-bed county jail have mental illnesses that are neither assessed nor treated. In addition, jail personnel rely far too heavily on restraint and seclusion. The complaint lists as inadequately addressed the full range of standard mental health care practices, including admissions screening and discharge planning, asserting that: “The predictable result is often recidivism and a cycle of arrests and detentions, at a great personal cost to the individual and at a great financial and social cost to the public at large.”
A second group of defendants is the leadership of the Las Cruces Police Department and Dõna Ana County Sheriff’s Office, whose officers, although “well aware of the jail’s failure to meet the serious mental health care needs of detainees… persist in a discriminatory pattern and practice of arresting” individuals with mental illnesses for simply being mentally ill or for conduct for which a person without disabilities would not be arrested. This is characterized as a result of the “failure to effectively train law enforcement personnel to recognize the signs of mental disabilities and respond appropriately.” Update: An agreement between the police department and plaintiffs, reached on July 13, 2009, calls for expanded training of officers to improve their interactions with individuals who appear to have mental disabilities.
All of these actions violate the New Mexico and United States Constitutions’ prohibitions on cruel and unusual punishment, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and give rise to tort claims for the named plaintiffs.
In June 2008 the Bazelon Center joined as co-counsel on the case, which was filed by the New Mexico Protection and Advocacy System, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, and private attorneys Michael Lilley of Las Cruces and Peter Cubra and Lisa Schatz-Vance of Albuquerque.