Excessive Force In The Garfield County Jail

The ACLU has filed 73 page complaint bringing a class action lawsuit against the Garfield County Sheriff, Lou Vallario, and Scott Dawson, the commander in charge of the jail, which is located in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, in federal court. 

The suit alleges that jail officials have used various non-lethal weapons as a form of punishment, rather than as necessary to maintain order in the jail, the mental health care has not been provided, that confidential attorney-client communications have not been permitted, that the administrative grievance procedure is disfunctional, and that the department lacks policies, procedures and training to necessary to prevent abuses.The claims are based on the 8th Amendment (cruel and unusual punishment), the 14th Amendment (which applies the Bill of Rights to the states), the Colorado Constitution’s Bill of Rights, the 1st Amendment (free speech), the 6th Amendment (right to counsel), and certain Colorado criminal procedure statutes relating to inmate access to attorneys.

According to ACLU Staff Atorney Taylor Pendergrass:

Deputies have threatened prisoners with tasers after they are already fully-restrained and have intentionally strapped prisoners into the chair in extremely painful positions.  Deputies have used these devices as an abusive form of summary corporal punishment, causing intense pain and physical injuries.

The Sheriff denies the charges:

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who oversees the jail, called the allegations “absolutely baseless, unwarranted, unsubstantiated and frivolous.

“We have specific policies and procedures regarding treatment of inmates including how the prisoners are classified and the use of force,” Vallario said. “And absolutely, we’ve had to use those devices. Actually those nifty devices are put into the market and have been successful across the country in law enforcement to avoid injuring people.”

But, the ACLU claims that:

Today’s lawsuit comes after a several-months-long ACLU investigation, which has included correspondence with current and former prisoners, review of documents obtained under the Colorado open records laws, and face-to-face interviews with current prisoners. During an ACLU visit to the jail in June, Sheriff Lou Vallario prohibited ACLU attorneys from speaking with several prisoners who had asked for ACLU legal assistance, prompting the ACLU to sue the Sheriff last month over the denial of attorney interviews. The lawsuit filed today includes a claim on behalf of one of the prisoners who was not allowed to speak with ACLU attorneys in June.

After the county files its answer to the complaint, preliminary hearings on class action status, motions claiming governmental immunity, and preliminary injunctions will follow in the near future.  If a settlement is not reached, a trial would be many months or years in the future after extensive pre-trial proceedings.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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