BATON ROUGE, LA (KSLA) - A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit accusing officials at a Northwest Louisiana prison of interfering with an investigation into reports of prisoner abuse and neglect.
The suit, filed in July in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, claimed 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.
The advocacy center said it was 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 alleged 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 day-long 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.
The lawsuit asked the court for a temporary restraining order to allow the attorneys to conduct their investigation.
On Thursday, Schwartzmann confirmed that the judge in the case had just signed off on an order that will allow the advocacy center to investigate the allegations of abuse without interference.
"The order allows the Advocacy Center into David Wade to access the prisoners, and requires that we get unmonitored communication with people who are incarcerated there," Schwartzmann said in a statement.
"The most important fact is that it allows the Advocacy Center to continue its investigation into the troubling conditions at David Wade free from interference by prison staff. We are incredibly concerned about how people are being treated in that prison. We are anxious to proceed with an investigation quickly."
Louisiana Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc, Wade Correctional Warden Jerry Goodwin and Col. Lonnie Nail, also of Wade Correctional were among those named in the suit.
"The parties reached an agreement which the Department believes is in the best interest of everyone involved," said DOC Communications Director Ken Pastorick In response to a request for comment on the order.