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$50,000 for Missouri Jail Prisoner Who Suffered Injuries Caused by Broken Plumbing

by Ed Lyon

Nicholas Ayers was a pretrial detainee at the Jackson County Detention Center in Missouri in 2015 and 2016. On January 1, 2016, a water pipe to Ayers’ cell broke so the water to his cell was cut off. A feature of plumbing unique to jails and prisons, due to the number of toilets and sinks in close proximity, is a back-flush valving system designed to keep one toilet’s contents from entering another toilet when it is flushed. Whenever water pressure is cut off to a toilet, back-flushing can occur despite the system’s design that is supposed to prevent it. 

When the water was cut off to Ayers’ cell to stop the leak, his toilet would occasionally fill with back-flushed sewage from other cells. Sometimes his toilet would overflow onto his cell floor. When that occurred, Ayers would leave his cell, walk downstairs, draw water into a plastic trash can and take it to his cell. After pouring the water into his toilet, it would then flush the sewage back into the main system. Ayers could leave his cell at will because the locking mechanism on his door was broken – a common problem at the jail. His plumbing was not repaired for over two weeks. 

After it was fixed, another leak occurred and water to Ayers’ cell was again cut off. The back-flushing began again with sewage sometimes spilling onto his floor. Jailers refused to move Ayers to another cell, so he continued his regular treks down and back up the stairs to fetch water to manually flush his toilet, which went on until March 17, 2016. 

During that time, the sewage stench in Ayers’ cell became so bad he could not sleep. Early one morning, at 4:00 a.m., he left his cell for water to flush his toilet. Coming back up the stairs, the sloshing of the water caused Ayers to lose his balance and miss a riser, which in turn made him fall backward down the staircase. He severely injured his head, neck and back. 

Attorney Michael D. Townsend represented Ayers in a federal civil rights suit that raised Eighth Amendment claims related to unsanitary conditions. While the litigation was pending, the county spent millions of dollars to repair broken plumbing and cell door locks at the jail. Jackson County officials voted to settle Ayers’ case for $50,000, inclusive of attorney fees and costs, on March 18, 2019. See: Ayers v. Jackson County, Missouri, U.S.D.C. (W.D. MO), Case No. 4:17-cv-00187-DGK. 


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Related legal case

Ayers v. Jackson County, Missouri