County sued over allegations of solitary confinement at juvenile facility

  • Wed Mar 15th, 2017 10:00pm
  • News

Grays Harbor County is facing a lawsuit alleging a teenager was held in wretched conditions of solitary confinement in the county’s juvenile facility.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday at the Western District Court of Washington at Tacoma, was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington on behalf of a mother and her now 16-year-old son, referred to as Theresa Doe and M.D. Defendants are Grays Harbor County, and Gerald Murphy and Greg Reynvaan (both county juvenile detention facility administrators).

According to a press release from the ACLU, the teen-ager was put into solitary confinement more than 40 times between 2013 and 2016, subjected to filthy conditions and denied adequate food. He allegedly spent a total of 75 days locked in a room or in a padded cell with little human interaction or access to his mother. During a particular eight-day stretch, he was allegedly locked in a room spattered with food and blood, with a feces-covered grate over a hole in the ground to use for a toilet.

The Grays Harbor Superior Court administrator said Wednesday afternoon that the court will not comment on the pending litigation. A request for comment was left with Suzanne Michael, a Seattle attorney who is representing the county in the case, but a message was not immediately returned.

The reasons for the solitary confinement, a press release from the ACLU states, were “minor infractions like talking back, leaving a glob of toothpaste on the door to his room, passing notes, spilling water, ‘being rude,’ and cursing.”

The suit alleges the county “regularly resorts to solitary confinement to sanction common forms of teenage misbehavior, such as talking back, passing notes, yelling, using profanity, and other everyday non-threatening conduct. The county does so both pursuant to official written policy that fails to comply with basic constitutional requirements, and long-standing practices that permit the routine and flagrant violation of even its own official written policies.”

It is the second lawsuit waged by the ACLU against Grays Harbor County in the past year.

In December 2016, the ACLU sued seeking the release of public records related to the use of isolated confinement at the county’s juvenile facility.

Earlier this year, the Grays Harbor County commissioners agreed to settle the public records lawsuit. Clerk to the board of commissioners Jenna Amsbury on Wednesday said she could not confirm if the suit had been settled because the county had not received confirmation from its risk pool. The public records request, however, was eventually filled by the county.

Both suits come after two juvenile detention administrators were disciplined last spring when an inmate was placed in isolated confinement about a year ago. The then 15-year old was reportedly only allowed out of his cell to shower and for one hour of recreation per day and was in isolation for eight days and seven nights. The detention center facility director, Reynvaan, was suspended for a week without pay. Detention director Murphy was suspended for 30 days without pay.

“Despite sanctioning Mr. Reynvaan and Mr. Murphy for their roles in keeping (the plaintiff) in solitary confinement for so long, and despite receiving days earlier the prosecution’s motion seeking (the plaintiff’s) release from the detention facility, (the plaintiff) was not released until April 27,” the current lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit asks the court to halt Grays Harbor County’s “unconstitutional policy and practice” of placing juveniles in solitary confinement for ordinary misbehavior and seeks compensation for the constitutional injuries and associated emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff.

“There is a growing recognition that solitary confinement is inhumane and should only be used in adult corrections facilities, and even then, only as a last resort,” said ACLU-WA Legal Director Emily Chiang. “Longstanding research shows solitary confinement can really harm kids, so we were shocked to find it is being used in a juvenile detention facility in Washington State routinely, repeatedly, and for a prolonged time period.”