Lawsuit: Louisiana Obstructing Investigations into Abuse at Jails

bars of a jail cell with sink and toilet visible

by Andy Jones
July 24, 2017

The Advocacy Center of Louisiana and the McArthur Justice Center of New Orleans filed a federal lawsuit July 20, accusing the Louisiana Department of Corrections of obstructing an investigation into the treatment of inmates with disabilities at the David Wade Correctional Center.

“Congress created federal statutes providing oversight of institutions that house people with mental illness and other disabilities to ensure that people are not subject to abuse,” said Ron Lospennato, attorney with the Advocacy Center, in a news release. “This case raises exactly the sort of concerns those statutes were created to address.”

In recent months, the Advocacy Center has received a series of alarming reports of abuse and neglect at the facility. Among these complaints are reports of staff stripping inmates of clothes and blasting them with fans during the winter months, of inmates being forced to kneel on the ground and bark like dogs to receive food, and an incident where a person with developmental disabilities had to unclog unclean toilets by hand.

In June, investigators wth the Advocacy Center scheduled a meeting at the facility, but prison staff allegedly barred them from speaking with any inmates. Furthermore, the advocates were barred from passing information to the prisoners. Prisoners who tried to pass information to investigators were later punished, according to the complaint.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, seeks a temporary restraining order, to force the DOC to comply with the investigation.

“Many of the men literally cried out to us for help. Others were in a seemingly-catatonic state. The staff moved several prisoners to another area to prevent our speaking with them,” said Katie Schwartzmann, attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center, in the news release. “The staff engaged in deliberate obstruction of our investigation. They clearly are trying to prevent outside scrutiny, also denying us access to talk to a man on suicide watch. We are very concerned for peoples’ safety, and about what they are trying to hide.”

The full complaint can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Washington and Louisiana, respectively, and members of the National Disability Rights Network.