No. 8 " ACLU lawsuit continues against Garfield County Jail |

No. 8 " ACLU lawsuit continues against Garfield County Jail

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of Garfield County Jail inmates obtained class-action status this year.

The certification by a federal judge means the claim is going forward on behalf of all inmates, future, past and present, in addition to the four original plaintiffs.

Filed in July 2006, the ACLU’s lawsuit alleges that prisoners are subject to patterns of excessive use of force and mind games with things like Tasers, pepper-ball guns, restraint chairs, pepper spray and electroshock belts. It also claims the jail has failed to provide mental health treatment in some instances and punishes prisoners without due process.

The amount of time and money involved in this type of litigation is enormous. As of late October, Garfield County had spent $569,641 on thousands of hours of work by a Boulder law firm to help lead the defense against the ACLU’s claims. That doesn’t take into account costs of work the county attorney’s office has done on the case.

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario has said the claims are untrue. He said the jail has only used a Taser on around eight people of around 30,000 booked into the jail in the six years he’s been sheriff, which hardly constitutes a pattern of excessive use of force. He said he’s spent hundreds of hours either digging up reports for disclosure, going to court, or doing other work related to the lawsuit.

William Brent Huntley filed a different lawsuit in February claiming jail staff ignored his medical needs in 2006, leading to a fall that caused him to lose sight in one eye.

Adam Burke, another former inmate, filed a lawsuit in January claiming he was subjected to inappropriately long hours in a restraint chair after being shot with pepper spray. A former jail employee and daughter of a county commissioner Lisa Martin also filed a lawsuit in May claiming she was wrongfully fired one year prior for complaining about harassment and other misconduct by her superiors. Several of her claims were dismissed in federal court and the case was sent back to district court.

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