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Lawsuit Says Shasta Co. Jail Mistreats Disabled Imates

ABC News

Four inmates have filed a class action suit against the Shasta County Jail.

The lawsuit alleges the jail abused inmates with disabilities and retaliated against inmates who tried to make their concerns known. The federal suit alleges the jail routinely fails to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) along with other federal and state laws.

The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are Everett Jewett, Glen Harold Everett, Michael Don Ackley, Robert Marquette and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The defendants named in the lawsuit include Shasta County, the Shasta County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Tom Bosenko and California Forensic Medical Group.

The lawsuit claims violations at the jail prevented disabled inmates from showering, sleeping and moving around. The lawsuit alleges some plaintiffs were put in solitary confinement or even denied cancer medication for speaking up about the problems.

Part of the lawsuit said: "People with mobility disabilities are denied accommodations, provided inadequate accommodations, inappropriately segregated from the general population, placed in 23 hour lockdown, excluded from jail programs and services, subjected to multiple and pervasive physical access barriers throughout the facilities. The result is a system that imposes some of the worst conditions on people with mobility disabilities while at the same time excluding them from the most beneficial programs within the jail. These conditions have dire mental and physical consequences and are in flagrant violation of the law."

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento. The plaintiffs' counsel includes attorneys from Keker & Van Nest LLP, Atabek & Associates, P.C.; and the Disability Rights Legal Center.

In a news release, the plaintiffs' attorneys explained the reason for the lawsuit.

"Everyone deserves dignity," said Taylor Gooch of Keker & Van Nest LLP, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. "We're seeking to protect that dignity and restore the legally protected rights of persons incarcerated by Shasta County."

"Solitary confinement is an extreme punishment that can cause serious psychological damage," added co-counsel Jon Atabek, of Atabek & Associates. "When I learned Shasta County Jail was putting disabled people into solitary confinement for being disabled-- needing a cane, wheelchair, or walker--I was shocked, and felt compelled to do something."

"Once we started digging, it became apparent disabled people were an afterthought to the jail, and that discrimination and equal access had never entered the County's mind. This case can fix that, through injunctions that make sure the jail follows the law. Law enforcement should follow the law," Atabek said.

Only one of the plaintiffs, Everett Jewett, is seeking monetary damages to pay for knee surgery as a result of two falls he suffered while in the jail. The others are suing only for conditions to be improved.

Kara Janssen with the Disability Rights Legal Center said the county has been on notice about these issues since Jewett's initial complaint was filed in 2013. Janssen said Jewett uses a cane and has problems with his balance.

Jewett fell two times while in custody at the Shasta County Jail, once while walking down the stairs, another time in the shower. Janssen said due to his mobility problems, Jewett was supposed to be housed on the lowest level of the jail so he would not have to navigate the stairs.

She added, Jewett fell again while in the shower because there were no "grab bars" in the shower.

Janssen said she conducted a site inspection and this was the "worst I've seen" in terms of accessibility. She said at the time of her inspection, there were no grab bars or accessible toilets in the entire building.

Janssen said conversations have been underway between the plaintiffs' legal counsel and the county's legal counsel for almost a year, in efforts to resolve the issues without litigation.

During that time, she said the only change she's observed has been the addition of a single "grab bar" in the shower. Negotiations are ongoing in hopes of resolving the concerns.

Sheriff Bosenko said in an email Wednesday afternoon, he "has not seen nor been served with the suit." He referred all questions to the county's legal counsel.

As of mid-day Thursday, Shasta County's legal counsel had not returned our calls.