Government & Politics

Just the facts, not the feces, judge tells Jackson County inmate who filed complaint

Jail inmates have complained repeatedly in lawsuits and letters to the media about the filthy conditions within the Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.

But this week brought a smelly new wrinkle.

U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple ruled that 33-year-old Sean C. Bradley went too far in trying to prove his point by sending along a bag of “evidence” from his cell that Whipple said “appears to be human feces.”

Do that again, Whipple ruled, and he’ll throw the case out of court.

“Plaintiff is hereby notified that if he sends to this court any other material that is biohazardous or has the appearance of being biohazardous,” Whipple wrote in an order filed Tuesday, “his complaint will be dismissed without further notice.”

Handwritten court documents from prisoners acting as their own attorneys are normally photocopied and uploaded into the electronic case filing system known as PACER.

This particular filing got special treatment. It’s a photograph of someone’s gloved fingers holding Bradley’s hard-to-read handwritten letter along with a plastic bag of the suspected excrement that Bradley alleged was from his living space in a jail that has had more than its share of plumbing problems.

“I’m allergic to mold and more than 30 days old waste that is in my cell,” wrote Bradley, who is awaiting trial on assault and other charges and whose public defender requested a mental evaluation.

Bradley explained that he couldn’t count on jail officials to provide photographs of the dirty conditions for him, so he sent along physical proof, writing, “inside this envelope and plastic bag is evidence.”

Jackson County officials were not aware of the incident when contacted Wednesday. Prisoners’ outgoing mail is generally not checked unless there is some suspicion it might include escape plans or promote other illegal activity, according to detention center policy.

Outgoing mail sent to court officials and government officials is privileged and opened only if there is “a reliable threat to the order and/or safety” at the detention center.

The U.S. Marshals Service screens all the mail that comes into the federal courthouse. That’s the stage where Bradley’s bag of evidence was intercepted, a spokesman for the marshals service said.

While the incident was unusual, his complaint isn’t. Recently, attorneys for two former Jackson County inmates filed separate lawsuits alleging that their clients’ rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment were violated due to insanitary conditions at the jail.

Joshua Riechmann said his cell stank like a sewer the last few weeks of his stay this year at the Jackson County Detention Center. When inmates in adjoining cells flushed their toilets, urine and feces would sometimes back up into Riechmann’s toilet bowl and slop onto the floor.

Nicholas Ayers alleged in another case that his toilet had no water supply, but he used it anyway. To get it to flush, he filled the tank with a trash can full of water he got from one floor below.

Both lawsuits describe similar conditions a year apart and in different areas of the building. In addition to the sewage problems, reports of standing water and black mold are common complaints from inmates and their families.

Inspection reports from the Jackson County Health Department reviewed by The Star also cited mold in the kitchen area.

At a meeting with The Star’s editorial board on Tuesday, Jackson County Executive Frank White said many of the jail’s plumbing problems have been fixed. But other county officials say cleanliness remains a problem, based on preliminary reports from one of two consulting firms hired by the county legislature to evaluate jail operations and facilities.

“We need to do better on sanitation,” county legislator Scott Burnett told the editorial board. “We need to clean the place better.”

The consultant reports are expected to be completed in August. White and the legislature then plan to discuss how to improve the current jail and consider whether a new one is needed.

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks