Lawsuit alleges inmates at NWLA prison may have been forced to bark for food

Lawsuit alleges inmates at NWLA prison may have been forced to bark for food
David Wade Correctional Center is a Louisiana state prison located in the northeast corner of Claiborne Parish. (Source: Louisiana Corrections Department)

BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA/AP) - Prisoners with disabilities, some wearing paper gowns, cried out for help and others were in a seemingly catatonic state when attorneys tried to investigate alleged abuse and neglect at a Northwest Louisiana prison, a lawsuit alleges.

The petition filed July 20 in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge claims officials at David Wade Correctional Center in Claiborne Parish blocked the attorneys from investigating allegations that inmates had been forced to kneel or bend down and bark like dogs for food and were slapped, punched, kicked and sprayed with mace and bleach.

The lawsuit was filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana, the latter of which identifies itself as the statewide protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities.

Named as defendants are Louisiana Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc, Wade Correctional warden Jerry Goodwin and Col Lonnie Nail, also of Wade Correctional.

LeBlanc said he hadn't seen the lawsuit. And a Corrections Department spokesman said it is against policy to comment on pending litigation.

The Advocacy Center says it is investigating claims that the prison failed to identify individuals with significant mental illnesses, provided inadequate mental health services and used solitary confinement as an alternative treatment.

The lawsuit also alleges that Wade Correctional officials:

  • refused to answer questions during a site visit in June,
  • would not let Advocacy Center and MacArthur Justice Center attorneys talk to some inmates,
  • stationed officers so they could listen in on conversations,
  • blocked documents from being passed between investigators and prisoners,
  • disciplined inmates who tried to bring information to investigators,
  • would not give the attorneys access to employees,
  • kept investigators from some parts of the prison, and,
  • cut the requested daylong visit down to an hour.

Staffers even moved several prisoners to another area to prevent the attorneys from speaking with them, said Katie Schwartzmann, an attorney with MacArthur Justice Center and an investigator with the Advocacy Center.

"They clearly are trying to prevent outside scrutiny, also denying us access to talk to a man on suicide watch. We are very concerned for people's safety and about what they are trying to hide."

The lawsuit asks the court for a temporary restraining order to allow the attorneys to conduct their investigation.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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