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$500,000 Settlement for Colorado Prisoner Forced to Defecate in Bucket for 12 Days

by David M. Reutter

On June 14, 2023, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve a state prisoner’s allegation that his Eighth Amendment guarantee of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment was violated when he was restrained and isolated in a “dry cell” without running water because he was suspected of having contraband drugs.

As PLN regularly reports, suits challenging conditions of confinement in prison rarely succeed, unless the conditions are truly deplorable. What Zackariah Jones, 37, alleged was that while held at Sterling Correctional Facility on December 1, 2018, six guards strip searched him after he filed several grievances against them, placing him in handcuffs and leg restraints inside an unheated cell lacking sufficient water. Guards refused to loosen the handcuffs, which were attached to a belly chain.

Despite passing a drug test, Jones remained this way for 12 days, he said, forced to defecate in a bucket and prevented from washing his hands or cleaning himself. Then-Warden Matt Hansen refused to release Jones until he had produced what the prison called a “substantial amount” of feces, under its policy for contraband investigations. Jones was barred from changing clothes, from lying down during the day and from removing the restraints. His feces allegedly dried on his body, causing painful, long-lasting sores.

After Jones filed suit in federal court for the District of Colorado in 2020, Defendants moved for summary judgment, calling the pleadings in his complaint insufficient to allege a constitutional violation. But the Court disagreed and denied the motion in September 2022, also finding Defendants ineligible for qualified immunity because the complained-of behavior was clearly outside constitutional bounds at the time. See: Jones v. Hansen, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 174078 (D. Colo.). The parties then proceeded to reach their settlement agreement, which provided $500,000 to Jones, inclusive of fees and costs for his attorneys, Liana G. Orshan and David A. Lane of Kilmer Lane LLP in Denver.

Importantly, DOC also agreed to policy changes related to use of “dry cells” for prisoners suspected of possessing or using drugs. Prison officials promised to implement new policies that guarantee prisoners may “properly clean themselves and change their jumpsuits when soiled, or every 72 hours.” DOC also must now offer prisoners laxatives to speed up the digestive process, and if no contraband is found after three bowel movements, prisoners must be released from the cell. A medical professional must sign off before prisoners are held longer than 72 hours.  


Additional source: Colorado Sun

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Related legal case

Jones v. Hansen