A former Orleans Parish Prison inmate filed a civil rights lawsuit against Sheriff Marlin Gusman last week, claiming he was assaulted at the jail by two deputies, including one wielding a wooden toilet bowl brush.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by former inmate Ricky Powell, describes the attack as part of a “culture of violence” at the troubled lockup, which remains subject to a federal consent decree requiring wholesale reforms.
One of Powell’s attorneys said the case prompted the suspension of one of the deputies and remains under criminal investigation.
“A key piece of this case, which is so common at the jail, is the sense of being so thoroughly in danger,” the attorney, Emily Ratner, said in an interview. “Theoretically, the people working there are there to keep you safe. All too often, it seems, they expose you to harm, whether it’s at the hands of another inmate or a jail employee.”
The lawsuit says the “unjustified assault and battery” happened June 26, 2014, as Powell was being housed in a jail building known as Templeman V.
Powell had been watching a video on a deputy’s cellphone, waiting for his turn to take a shower, when another deputy asked Powell to back away from a desk where the deputy was seated along with two nurses, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, Powell backed up and sat on a bench in front of the desk, but the same deputy asked him to back up farther. Powell refused, the lawsuit says, and the deputy radioed for backup.
Sgt. Ian Taylor and Sgt. Shawfeek Preston — who are named as defendants in the lawsuit — arrived to help, according to Powell.
Preston grabbed the inmate and tried to lift him out of his seat, the lawsuit says, while Taylor “struck him repeatedly in the head” with a wooden toilet bowl brush. “Defendants Preston and Taylor then grabbed plaintiff Powell and wrestled him to the floor,” the lawsuit says.
Powell eventually was handcuffed. Taylor then held the inmate to the floor by placing his knee in his throat, choking him, the lawsuit says.
“Each time plaintiff Powell moved out from under defendant Taylor’s knee so that he could breathe, defendant Taylor would put his knee back into plaintiff Powell’s throat,” the lawsuit claims. “During this time, defendant Taylor also punched plaintiff Powell repeatedly with a closed fist.”
The lawsuit claims that two nurses witnessed the assault and recorded it on their cellphones. Ratner, Powell’s attorney, said she had not seen the footage but hopes to obtain it through the course of the lawsuit.
Reached by phone last week, one of the nurses, Janeka Booker, denied filming the incident. “We never took no photos at all,” Booker said, adding before hanging up that she had been under investigation “for months.”
The assault left Powell with head injuries and blurred vision, the lawsuit claims, and exacerbated chronic headaches he already suffered as a result of cranial surgery and cancer treatment.
Ratner said her client was not taken to the hospital for more than three weeks after the incident.
“I wonder how typical Ricky’s case is,” she said.
Powell, 27, is now serving time in state custody.
Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said last week that Preston remains employed by the agency, while Taylor does not. He did not respond when asked whether Taylor had been disciplined because of Powell’s allegations.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian .