American Civil Liberties Union sues GarCo Sheriff
The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating the Garfield County Jail for alleged prisoner abuse and is suing Sheriff Lou Vallario for preventing ACLU lawyers from holding confidential interviews with inmates. The lawsuit alleges that on June 15, Vallario prevented ACLU attorney Taylor Pendergrass from speaking with three prisoners who had sought legal assistance from the ACLU because it would have violated an unconstitutional unwritten policy. The policy allegedly requires a deputy to ask a prisoner who his attorney is, and if the prisoner does not identify the attorney requesting an interview, the interview is not granted. The ACLU wants a federal judge to grant a temporary restraining order against the Sheriff’s Department by June 27, forcing the jail to allow the ACLU to interview the prisoners so it can continue an investigation of the alleged abuses. Vallario is on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Calls to Undersheriff Tim Templon and Jail Commander Scott Dawson were not returned.Investigation sparked by complaintThe lawsuit claims Pendergrass and ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein were investigating prisoners’ allegations that their constitutional rights had been violated a number of times. The investigation was sparked by a complaint from Clarence Vandehey, a prisoner who had participated in an alleged November 2005 jail riot and had allegedly been placed in a restraint chair on multiple occasions. The lawsuit alleges that Vandehey had been forced to lie in pepper dust for 15 minutes before being strapped in the chair. Twice in January he had allegedly been given outdoor recreation time in sub-zero temperatures without shoes. Silverstein said the ACLU is concerned because Vallario has no written policy for the jail regulating the use of restraint chairs, pepperball guns or Tasers, which the lawsuit says have injured or killed prisoners in other jails. Before Silverstein and Pendergrass began their inmate interviews on May 11, the lawsuit says Silverstein had arranged the interviews with jail officials in advance. The lawyers met with Vandehey and alleged co-rioter William Baine Langley, who last week decided during a court hearing to drop his lawyer and represent himself. Interview processBefore Silverstein and Pendergrass’ June 15 visit, jail officials informed Silverstein that he did not need to provide the jail in advance with the names of prisoners they wished to interview, and jail officials were informed the pair wanted to interview some prisoners more than once. Silverstein interviewed Vandehey on June 14 without incident.According to the lawsuit, the next day, Dawson asked three other prisoners that Silverstein and Pendergrass wanted to meet with, who their lawyers were. The prisoners said their lawyers were their criminal defense attorneys, not representatives of the ACLU. ACLU documents say that Dawson then prevented Silverstein and Pendergrass from meeting with the prisoners. In a meeting with Vallario and other jail staff, Vallario told Silverstein and Pendergrass that the ACLU wouldn’t be permitted to visit with prisoners unless the prisoners identified ACLU lawyers as their attorneys. Jail policy in questionVallario allegedly told Silverstein that the jail policy requiring prisoners to identify their attorney before seeing a lawyer isn’t written anywhere. “Mr. Silverstein stated that (the) ACLU has not yet agreed to provide legal representation to the prisoners, so it would be especially difficult and possibly misleading for prisoners to state that they are represented by ACLU attorneys,” Pendergrass said in the lawsuit. Pendergrass claims that Vallario’s unwritten policy harms defendants who don’t qualify for a public defender and need to meet with attorneys they haven’t yet retained. “We were told that we could visit with the three prisoners through the video visiting system, but the prisoners would have to initiate the visit,” Pendergrass said. “But there was no way the ACLU could advise these prisoners, during the time remaining to us in Glenwood Springs, that this is what they needed to do.”Vallario allegedly refused to have deputies hand the prisoners letters informing them that they needed to tell deputies they want to meet with the ACLU while there was still time for a visit.”Sheriff Vallario appeared unwilling to reach any compromise on this issue and seemed to invite litigation,” Pendergrass said.Pendergrass said he was later allowed to meet with Langley and Vandehey separately, who told him that before June 14, deputies had never asked them who their attorney was before being allowed to see a lawyer. “There is a substantial risk that even prisoners who know in advance that ACLU lawyers are coming and who wish to meet with the attorneys will nevertheless fail to supply the ‘magic words’ in answer to the deputy’s question, ‘Who is your attorney?'” the lawsuit says. Contact Bobby Magill: 945-8515, ext. email@example.com
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