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$248,000 Jury Award for Inhumane D.C. Jail Conditions

Five prisoners in the D.C. Jail were awarded a total of $248,000 in damages On February 1, 2006, following a two day jury trial in federal district court over inhumane and unconstitutional conditions at the jail.

Shannon J. Battle, Bernard Brown, Eugene Scott, Vonsauli Smith and Timothy Williams were prisoners in the D.C. jail on February 23, 1996, when they were subjected to two weeks of inhumane and unconstitutional conditions. They filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging constitutional civil rights violations for lack of sanitation, no provision for personal hygiene, lack of eating utensils, inadequate heating, inadequate air flow and lack of medical treatment.

All were placed in extremely cold, filthy cells and not allowed to shower for three weeks. Battle?s cell had no running water and he was sprayed in the face with a chemical agent and not allowed to clean it off or given medical treatment. Brown was beaten and sprayed with a fire extinguisher. Scott was placed in a cell with no functioning toilet and not given eating utensils or a blanket. He also was beaten, resulting in a fractured finger, and sprayed with chemical agents. Smith was denied personal hygiene items and had a vermin-infested cell. He was sprayed with a chemical agent. Guards beat him with a baton, fracturing two ribs and displacing another rib. Williams was repeatedly sprayed with chemical agents that triggered his asthma, but was denied any medical treatment.

Defendants claimed that plaintiffs were placed in the cells for disciplinary reasons and that any force used against them was reasonable and necessary. The jury disagreed. On February 1, 2006, it awarded Brown $33,000; Battle $13,000; Scott $37,000; Smith $85,000; and Williams $80,000 for a total award of $248,000. The prisoners were represented by attorneys Daniel McCrea Schember of Washington and Samuel M. Shapiro of Rockville. See: Battle v. District of Columbia, USDC, D DC, Civil Action No. 1:99-CV-1788-RCL.

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Related legal case

Battle v. District of Columbia