Federal class action lawsuit alleges torture, abuse, neglect at N. Louisiana prison

David Wade Correctional Center. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

BATON ROUGE – The MacArthur Justice Center has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the Louisiana Department of Corrections and a North Louisiana jail for abusing prisoners and neglecting prisoners with serious mental health needs.

The lawsuit alleges that David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, Louisiana, houses hundreds of prisoners in “extended lockdown” cells for months on end.

The prisoners are kept in their cells for 23 to 24 hours a day and are allowed no human contact, even the sight of fellow prisoners in adjacent cells.

“Extended lockdown is a cruel, inhumane punishment in which men are deprived of human contact, the outdoors, speaking with their families or even a regular shower. The Department of Corrections sends men to these horrible conditions without any consideration for their mental or physical health,” MacArthur Justice Center attorney Katie Schwartzmann said. “Prisoners known to have serious mental illness, including history of self-harm or suicidal tendencies, are routinely placed on extended lockdown.”

The lawsuit has been filed on behalf of two prisoners, Anthony Tellis and Bruce Charles, both of whom were placed on extended lockdown.

Tellis had no history of mental illness before his confinement, and now suffers from audio and visual hallucinations, while Charles, who had been diagnosed as bipolar previous to his confinement, has been on suicide watch five times and has attempted suicide twice, according to the lawsuit.

The experienced of other prisoners are also detailed in the suit, including a prisoner with a history of serious mental illness who hung himself with a bedsheet and another who faces amputation of one of his legs after a botched suicide attempt.

Prison workers also opened windows in January during a freeze to torture the prisoners, who were clad in “minimal clothing,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed on February 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, and names Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Corrections James M. LeBlanc, David Wade Correctional Center Warden Jerry Goodwin, and the officials overseeing the South Compound and mental health provisions of DWCC prisoners as defendants.

The suit alleges violations of the First and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.