Saili Prado endured at least two brutal beatings, his attorneys say, at the hands of fellow jail inmates because of lax security at the Jackson County Detention Center in 2016.
And because of broken plumbing and poor sanitation in the jail, the now-21-year-old Kansas City man alleges that he was forced to live in filth while incarcerated for months before being sentenced to probation for robbery last year.
Similar complaints have been lodged in a number of lawsuits and acknowledged by county officials and others in the past year.
But Prado’s attorney, David R. Smith, and attorneys at two other law firms have gone a step further in filing a newly amended federal complaint this week.
They want a U.S district court judge in Kansas City to declare that Jackson County violated the constitutional rights of Prado and countless others awaiting trial or transfer to state prison.
And they are asking Judge Beth Phillips to order the county to take steps to address the jail’s dirty and dangerous conditions.
In addition to seeking unspecified monetary damages, the class-action litigation asks Phillips to issue an injunction requiring the county to better train correctional officers in recognizing prisoners’ constitutional rights to equal protection under the law and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.
Also, the suit asks for a judicial order requiring the county to alleviate overcrowding in the red-brick jail at 1300 Cherry St. and “immediately remedy the inhumane conditions.”
While far from being the first lawsuit filed citing security lapses and insanitary conditions at the detention center, the complaint filed late Thursday is the first to ask for systemic changes on behalf of current and former jail inmates as a group.
If successful, it would be the third time in the last four decades that the jail could be under some form of federal supervision.
The county does not comment on pending litigation, a spokeswoman said.
But Prado’s attorney said he hopes the lawsuit will lead to needed changes at the jail, where four out of five detainees are awaiting trial and can’t make bail.
“We just wish that our prisoners were treated as humanely as the animals in the animal shelter,” said Smith, of the Smith Lawrence law firm.
He is getting assistance in the litigation from Michael Yonke at Yonke Law LLC and two lawyers at the Edgar Law Firm LLC, John F. Edgar and Dylan M. Long.
The litigation comes amid rising calls for improvements in both the jail’s operations and physical condition. An outside auditor hired by the county legislature told legislators last week that understaffing at the jail has become “a crisis situation,” with too few corrections officers to ensure the safety of inmates and their jailers.
The consultant from CRA Inc., Jim Rowenhorst, also cited the “atrocious” sanitary conditions he encountered on his first visits to the detention center this year, citing sewage backups and other plumbing problems that both he and the county say have since been fixed.
The county has been making improvements within the facility over the past year, spending $2.9 million on fixing 488 broken cell doors, replacing hundreds of mattresses and spending $58,000 on plumbing issues.
On Monday, the legislature will consider spending another $100,000 to hire three union painters to paint inmate living areas.
But a 40 percent turnover rate in corrections officers remains a serious concern, with Rowenhorst reporting instances of only two corrections officers at times supervising as many as 190 detainees.
Legislators have asked County Executive Frank White to come up with a plan by Monday on how to address the issue for the short term and to develop long-term solutions by the end of the month. White’s spokeswoman said he will comply.
While higher pay may ultimately lead to a more stable workforce in the long term, short-term fixes could include hiring an outside firm to transport prisoners and shortening visiting hours so that more guards can be in the housing units.
Prado was one of four teen-agers arrested in February 2016 after a two-day crime spree, and was the only one who got probation instead of a prison sentence.
Initially, he was housed on the detention center’s third floor, known by guards and inmates alike as “the thunder dome” because of the many fights that break out there.
Prado was moved to another floor after a couple of weeks when he was nearly jumped by a group of inmates led by the brother of one of his co-defendants, the lawsuit says.
But he didn’t escape violence for long. After a month in protective custody on the jail’s seventh floor, he was moved to the fourth floor, which he feared would make him appear to be a “snitch.”
Prado’s concerns were borne out on April 19, 2016, when he endured two beatings — once in the early morning hours and once in the evening — at the hands of a half dozen other inmates who called themselves “the towelaban” because they wrapped their faces in towels to hide their identities.
In both instances, the beatings occurred, he alleges, after his assailants blocked the lens of video surveillance cameras with brooms that he alleges inmates were allowed to keep in their living areas, despite their potential for being used as weapons.
The suit alleges that the guards would have noticed that the lenses were blocked had they been paying attention.
“Because the camera lens was covered with a broom,” the suit says, “the other pretrial detainees believed they could assault and batter plaintiff without fear of punishment.”
Smith filed a limited lawsuit on Prado’s behalf back in June, but the complaint was amended this week to include additional allegations about jail conditions and the proposal to represent all pre-trial detainees and inmates. The class-action suit is just the latest in a number of challenges the county has faced this year with regard to the detention center.
The county paid out more than $700,000 in settlements this year to former inmates who said they were harmed due to negligence or outright brutality at the hands of the jail’s corrections officers.
In January, the county legislature approved a $275,000 payout to settle a claim by a former inmate who alleged her rape by another detainee was due to security lapses.
Then last month, the county paid $437,500 to a man who suffered serious injuries when beaten by guards on July 4, 2015.
The four guards accused of beating a defenseless James J. Ramirez are now facing federal felony charges.
Other pending lawsuits include one filed by former inmate Davonta Sweate, who said he was roughed up by guards after suffering a seizure. In another suit, Ryan Dumas said a guard did nothing to stop him from being raped by a fellow inmate and accused her of furnishing inmates with illegal drugs.
Two inmates sued separately in the spring claiming they lived in filthy, unsanitary conditions.