Prisoners Say They Were Beaten in Scorching Heat

From Courthouse News Service


PHOENIX (CN) — Inmates of an Arizona prison claim a specialized tactical unit of corrections officers rounded up nearly 55 prisoners outside in 100-degree weather and assaulted those who questioned their actions.

Their lawsuit, filed Thursday in Maricopa County Superior Court, names as defendants Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan and 33 correctional officers and members of the Tactical Support Unit, or TSU.

According to the complaint, about 40 to 45 TSU officers ordered nearly 55 inmates in the Cook Unit at the Eyman prison complex in Florence, Ariz., out of their cells for a “quarterly search” on June 9 and 10, 2014.

The officers allegedly ordered inmates to stand in a single-file line outside in the sun, where it was more than 100 degrees, in their underwear, T-shirts and shower sandals.

“Each time a victim-inmate addressed a TSU defendant, whether to request clarification or otherwise, the victim-inmate was assaulted by one or more TSU defendants, often from behind,” the 27-page lawsuit claims.

One prisoner was assaulted for standing too far from the person in front of him in line, while another was assaulted because he could not keep his chin touching his chest, the current and former inmates claims.

“A 70-year-old inmate-victim was also assaulted by a TSU defendant for not getting to the single-file-line quick enough,” according to the complaint, which also alleges another inmate was then assaulted when he questioned the beating of the 70-year-old.

After the inmates lined up, they say they were escorted to a room near the showers, where members of TSU searched each inmate. Inmates were allegedly placed in handcuffs behind their backs during the search.

One “mentally ill” inmate, who had difficulty moving into the room, was picked off of the ground by his hair by an officer, the lawsuit states.

Another inmate “was ordered to lay on his stomach in the dirt,” and had dirt repeatedly kicked into his face, according to the complaint. (52)

The inmates claim David McElroy, a correctional officer, witnessed these two assaults and reported them to his supervisor and to criminal investigators.

But he criminal investigators “attempted to justify said conduct so as to not cause criminal charges to be filed against the TSU defendants,” the complaint states.

After the attacks, some inmates who needed medical treatment were forced to “provide a false recorded statement that the inmate assaulted an officer, which prompted the TSU defendants’ violent action against the inmate” just to receive medical treatment, according to the lawsuit.

The inmates say they have not been given “un-redacted records and video surveillance footage, among other materials” documenting the attacks, despite repeated requests under Arizona’s public record laws. Some of the requested information includes the names of all of the TSU officers involved in the incident.

A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections said the agency has not been served with a copy of the complaint.

The inmates seek special and general damages for civil rights violations. They are represented by Anne Findling of Robbins & Curtin in Phoenix.