Detainees put in 'filthy, cramped' holding cell for days amid COVID-19 outbreak, lawsuit claims

Photo from Louisiana jail via class-action lawsuit

A civil rights law firmed based in Chicago has filed a class-action lawsuit during the COVID-19 outbreak, alleging abuses that include severe overcrowding and unsanitary conditions inside a Louisiana jail.

A surveillance photo from the jail appears to show a group of more than a dozen detainees held up in a cell for up to 16 days, the lawsuit claims, which is “far beyond the Louisiana legal limit of 48 hours,” Chief Communications Officer Jennifer McGuffin for the law firm Romanucci & Blandin said in a statement.

It is important to note that the detainees in the photo have not been convicted of any crimes, are pre-trial and presumed innocent, she added.

“These conditions are 14th Amendment violations on any day, but now present a grave health risk to the community given COVID-19 concerns. These detainees are now putting the community at risk once they return home,” McGuffin said.

The class-action lawsuit claims the detainees were being held in a “filthy, cramped holding cell that was 10 feet by 20 feet and filled with up to 24 people.”

The suit also alleges that the detainees were held in conditions that were “cruel and unusual, denied access to basic hygiene, forced to sleep on filthy concrete floors, often without blanked, and not allowed space or time for any exercise.”

“The conditions inside this facility are abhorrent at any time, but are particularly concerning now in the era of social distancing and COVID-19,” co-lead counsel Devon Jacob of Jacob Litigation said in a statement.

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here to read full PDF on class-action lawsuit

The lawsuit was filed by Romanucci & Blandin, LLC and Jacob Litigation, Inc. on behalf of Ahmed Baqer, Klabert Joseph Guillot Jr., Klabert Joseph Guillot Sr. and other detainees of the St. Tammany Parish Jail in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana.

On Monday, Illinois health officials announced three deaths and 236 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the state total to 12 deaths and 1,285 cases of infection.