Vallario files response to ACLU suit |

Vallario files response to ACLU suit

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario has formally denied abusing inmates in the county jail and claimed that their own actions have determined how they had to be treated.Attorneys for Vallario and county sheriff commander Scott Dawson have filed a 61-page response in U.S. District Court in Denver to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year.The two deny allegations that the jail has abused prisoners through the use of restraint chairs, pepper spray, pepper ball guns and electric shock belts, and has kept mental health care from indigent prisoners and imposed harsh discipline without due process.The jail’s actions “were taken in good faith and for legitimate reasons and did not violate any constitution or any regulatory, statutory, common law or other legal provision of any kind,” the defendants said in their answer to the ACLU suit.The answer calls for a judgment in Vallario and Dawson’s favor and dismissal of the suit.It also states that they are protected from being sued by the Colorado Government Immunity Act, and that some or all of the suit’s claims aren’t allowed under the federal Prison Litigation Act.Some of the specific allegations denied by Vallario and Dawson include:

n that jail deputies taunted prisoners and inflicted mental torture by playing “mind games” in connection with an electroshock belt, including intentionally dropping the belt’s remote control and saying the belt had been having problems and going off on its own. • threatening transfer to the jail’s “supermax” section, replacing regular meals with what is called “nutraloaf,” or putting people in restraint chairs as forms of punishment rather than for legitimate reasons;• failing to provide opportunities to pursue grievances.• not allowing inmates in significant need of mental health care to receive it if they don’t have the money to pay for it.”Defendants deny that inmates with serious mental health needs are denied appropriate mental health care,” Vallario and Dawson say in their response.The jail sometimes uses the shock belt on inmates in court when judges don’t want them shackled, but the belts have never been activated and are designed to prevent accidental activation, according to the lawsuit response.The response also details some uses of pepper ball guns, restraint chairs and pepper spray, but argues those uses were warranted when inmates needed to be brought under control. In one case, inmate Samuel Lincoln was made to lie down on a cell floor that had pepper spray dust on it, but only because he was continuing not to cooperate and needed to be safely extracted, the response states.

Lincoln could not be immediately examined by a nurse after being exposed to the pepper spray because he could not be subdued for several minutes, it states. The jail has no written policy regarding use of restraint chairs but deputies receive training in its use, the response indicates. It also admits to isolated occasions of inmates being strapped into the chair while their hands were cuffed behind their backs, which the ACLU says creates extreme pain.In one case, jail officers both cuffed inmate Clarence Vandehey and placed him in the chair “to stop Mr. Vandehey from harming himself,” the response states. In another, the cuffs were also needed while he was in the chair so a nurse could safely approach and examine him.Vandehey has claimed the restraints were painful and too tight and made his hands turn cold, but a nurse checked and determined they weren’t too tight, according to the response.Addressing other concerns raised by the ACLU, the lawsuit response said deputies didn’t immediately return bedding to Lincoln’s cell because of fear that he would again use the bedding to clog up his toilet. It said inmate William Langley was given the opportunity to be examined by personnel from Colorado West Regional Mental Health, but refused, calling them “flunkies.”It goes on to call Langley “a prolific complainer who has been complaining for months about the type and dosage of his medication as well as a a wide variety of other perceived ills.” And it denies that Langley’s current behavioral problems are a result of serious mental health problems.It denies an allegation that he was forced to urinate into a toilet while his legs were still strapped to a restraint chair.

Vallario and Dawson acknowledge briefly withholding grievance forms from some inmates, but explained, “when prisoners shred grievance forms in their cells and throw the resulting confetti out in the dayroom, they are denied grievance forms for a short time thereafter.”The ACLU complaint is a class action lawsuit but specifically names Vandehey, Langley, Lincoln and Hogue as plaintiffs.Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU in Colorado, responded to Vallario and Dawson’s answer to the lawsuit in a short, written statement.”We are glad that the Defendants have now filed their answer and that discovery in the case will now begin. We fully expect to prove the allegations in our … complaint,” he wrote.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext.

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