ACLU sues Garfield County jail
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – 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, forcing the jail to allow the ACLU to interview the prisoners so it can continue an investigation of the alleged abuses. 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 the 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. ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein said the organization 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. Garfield County Undersheriff Tim Templon, in an interview Monday, denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s allegations against Vallario and the Garfield County Jail.Templon said the jail’s restraint chair is used when an inmate becomes combative and tries to injure himself or another person.
“What else do you do with a person like that?” Templon said. “It’s actually for their own benefit.”He said restrained inmates are monitored by medical staff. Without the jail’s policy, deputies are required to escort inmates to meet with their visitors, and Templon said it gets expensive if an inmate is taken from a cell to be interviewed frequently.”It takes manpower to do that, which in turn costs money,” he said. If any lawyer were allowed to talk to any inmate he wants to, lawyers could end up competing with each other at the jail over inmate representation.
To illustrate that the jail is not violating inmates’ rights and is operated professionally, Templon cited a 2005 facilities assessment report written by the federal National Institute of Corrections (NIC), an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report, written after an NIC inspector visited the jail over three days in August and September 2005, says the jail “is extremely well maintained and managed,” and “staff is professional in their demeanor and treats the inmates with respect, which is returned (with very few exceptions) by the inmates to the staff.”Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado