Jury awards $2M to former New Mexico inmate left in hot prison van

A federal jury awarded a former New Mexico prison inmate $2 million in his lawsuit against the state Corrections Department for being left in a hot prison transport van by two officers six years ago, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

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Isaha Casias, 36, won the award Thursday after a four-day trial in U.S. District Court in Roswell, New Mexico. The jury awarded Casias $1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages against each of the two officers, the Journal reported.

Casias filed a state court lawsuit against the department and corrections officers Taracina Morgan and Herman Gonzales in October 2015, the newspaper reported, but the case was later moved to federal court.

Casias was in prison after his 2013 conviction for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon, the Journal reported. He was released in August 2014, the newspaper reported.

The lawsuit alleged that in July 2013, the officers left Casias and 10 other inmates in the back of a windowless van without air conditioning outside the Penitentiary of New Mexico on a hot summer day "between 30 and 40 minutes."

Some of the inmates, including Casias, passed out, and the suit says some of the prisoners thought they were going to die, according to the lawsuit.

In a telephone interview Friday with the Journal, Casias said reliving the incident during trial was traumatizing, but he was happy with the verdict.

“It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,” Casias told the newspaper. “There are no words to express how horrible it was.”

Corrections Department spokeswoman Ashley Espinoza said Morgan is still employed with the department, according to the Journal. Gonzales retired in October.

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