Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

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From TURKMEN v. ASHCROFT, No. 02-CV-2307 (E.D. New York, January 15, 2013), a case about 9/11-aftermath confinement conditions for Muslims in violation of immigration law:

The harsh confinement policy was implemented by the MDC defendants in the following way: The Detainees (the “MDC Detainees”) were placed in that facility’s Administrative Maximum Special Housing Unit (the “ADMAX SHU”). There, they were confined in tiny cells for over 23 hours a day, provided with meager and barely edible food, and prohibited from moving around the unit, using the telephone freely, using the commissary, accessing MDC handbooks (which explained how to file complaints about mistreatment), and keeping any property, including personal hygiene items like toilet paper and soap, in their cells. Whenever they left their cells, they were handcuffed and shackled. Although they were offered the nominal opportunity to visit the recreation area outside of their cells several times a week, the recreation area was exposed to the elements and the MDC Detainees were not offered clothing beyond their standard cotton prison garb and a light jacket. Furthermore, detainees who accepted such offers were often physically abused along the way, and were sometimes left for hours in the cold recreation cell, over their protests, as a form of punishment. As a result, they were constructively denied exercise during the fall and winter.

The MDC Detainees also were denied sleep. Bright lights were kept on in the ADMAX SHU for 24 hours a day (until March 2002), and staff at the MDC made a practice of banging on the MDC Detainees’ cell doors and engaging in other conduct designed to keep them from sleeping. They also conducted inmate “counts” at midnight, 3:00 a.m., and 5:00 a.m. While such counts are inherently disruptive — officers are required to see the skin of each inmate being counted, see BOP P.S. 5500.09 — the officers “went beyond what was required for the count by kicking the door hard with their boots, knocking on the door at night much more frequently than required, and making negative comments when knocking on the door.” ¶ 39. For example, for the first two or three weeks that one detainee was in the ADMAX SHU, one of the officers walked by about every 15 minutes throughout the night, kicked the doors to wake up the detainees, and yelled things such as, “Motherfuckers,” “Assholes,” and “Welcome to America.” ¶ 36. In addition, officers used the in-cell camera to watch one detainee, and when he would appear to fall asleep they would kick the cell door.
The MDC Detainees also were subjected to frequent physical and verbal abuse by many of the officers in the ADMAX SHU. The physical abuse included slamming the MDC Detainees into walls; bending or twisting their arms, hands, wrists, and fingers; lifting them off the ground by their arms; pulling on their arms and handcuffs; stepping on their leg restraints; restraining them with handcuffs and/or shackles even while in their cells; and handling them in other rough and inappropriate ways. The use of such force was unnecessary because the MDC Detainees were always fully compliant with orders and rarely engaged in misconduct. The verbal abuse included referring to the MDC Detainees as “terrorists” and other offensive names, threatening them with violence, cursing at them, insulting their religion, and making humiliating sexual comments during strip-searches.

Both the MDC Detainees and the Detainees held at the Passaic Jail (the “Passaic Detainees”) were subjected to unreasonable and punitive strip-searches. The MDC Detainees were strip-searched every time they were removed from or returned to their cells, including before and after visiting with their attorneys, receiving medical care, using the recreation area, attending a court hearing, and being transferred to another cell. They were strip-searched upon each arrival at the MDC in the receiving and discharge area and again after they had been escorted — shackled and under continuous guard — to the ADMAX SHU. These strip-searches occurred even when they had no conceivable opportunity to obtain contraband, such as before and after non-contact attorney visits (to and from which they were escorted — handcuffed and shackled — by a four-man guard). Supp. OIG Rep. at 3.

The MDC had no written policy governing when to conduct strip-searches, and they were conducted inconsistently.
The strip-searches were unnecessary to security within the MDC. Rather, they were conducted to punish and humiliate the detainees. Female officers were often present during the strip-searches; the strip-searches were regularly videotaped in their entirety (contrary to BOP policy, see BOP P.S. 5521.05); and MDC officers routinely laughed and made inappropriate sexual comments during the strip-searches.

Officers at the MDC and the Passaic Jail also interfered with the Detainees’ ability to practice and observe their Muslim faith. Specifically, when the Detainees requested copies of the Koran, officers delayed for weeks or months before providing them; the MDC and the Passaic Jail failed to provide food that conformed to the Halal diet, despite the Detainees’ requests for such food; the MDC had no clock visible to the MDC Detainees, and officers regularly refused to tell them the time of day or the date so they could conform to daily Islam prayer requirements and observe Ramadan; and officers constantly interrupted the Detainees’ prayers by banging on their cell doors, yelling and making noise, screaming derogatory anti-Muslim comments, videotaping them, handing out hygiene supplies, and/or telling them to “shut the fuck up” while they were trying to pray.

In addition, most of the MDC Detainees were held incommunicado during the first weeks of their detention (the “communications blackout”). MDC staff repeatedly turned away everyone, including lawyers and relatives, who came to the MDC looking for the MDC Detainees, and thus the MDC Detainees had neither legal nor social visits during this period. This communications blackout lasted until mid-October 2011.

After the initial communications blackout, the MDC Detainees were nominally permitted one call per week to an attorney. However, MDC officers obstructed Detainees’ efforts to telephone and retain lawyers in multiple ways. They were denied sufficient information to obtain legal counsel; although they were given a list of organizations that provide free legal services, the contact information for these organizations was outdated and inaccurate. Legal calls that resulted in a wrong number or busy signal were counted against their quota of calls, as were calls answered by voicemail. Officers frequently asked the MDC Detainees, “Are you okay?,” and if the MDC Detainees responded affirmatively, the officers construed this as a waiver of their already-limited privilege to make legal calls. The officers also often brought the phone to the MDC Detainees early in the morning before law offices opened for the day. And they frequently pretended to dial a requested number or deliberately dialed a wrong number and then claimed the line was dead or busy. They then refused to dial again, saying that the Detainee had exhausted his quota.

When the MDC Detainees managed to reach their attorneys by phone, the officers frequently stood within hearing distance of conversations that should have been treated as privileged. Legal visits were non-contact and the MDC Detainees were handcuffed and shackled during the entirety of the visits. The MDC video- and audio-recorded the MDC Detainees’ legal visits until April 2002 or later.
The MDC Detainees were nominally permitted one social call per month after the initial communications blackout. However, these calls were just as severely restricted as the legal calls. Social visits were restricted to immediate family, yet even immediate family members were sometimes turned away. As with their legal visits, social visits were non-contact and the MDC Detainees were handcuffed and shackled during the entirety of the visits.

Written by Burgers Allday

January 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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