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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Cook County Jail May Be Liable for Water Torture

(CN) - A man who says that the constantly running faucet in his jail cell amounted to "water torture" may sue the Cook County Jail superintendent for cruel and unusual punishment, a federal judge ruled.

Albert Millsapp, a pre-trial detainee, claims he was confined to his cell in Cook County Jail for 22 to 23 hours per day. From March to July 2010, the sink in his cell ran constantly, such that, according to one filing, he and "his cell mate had to yell over the roaring water sound just to be able to communicate."

The noise of the running sink was the equivalent of "water torture," according to the complaint. "The deep howling, vibrating sound of the water radiated through the cell relentlessly pounding in his ears," it states. "The sound is best described by if one were to submerge his own head in water and then beat the water with objects without ceasing."

Millsapp claims the noise caused him to suffer dizziness, vomiting, headaches, loss of appetite, weight loss and suicidal thoughts.

Over the course of four months, Millsapp and his family allegedly filed multiple grievances requesting that the sink be fixed or that he be moved to a different cell.

But the correctional officers merely told Millsapp "to bond out or plead guilty and go to prison and you won't have to hear the water any more," he claims. Cook County Jail Superintendent Daniel Moreci even personally came into his cell and "laughed at" Millsapp's request, according to the complaint.

Millsapp filed suit against Moreci last year for violating his constitutional rights by subjecting him to cruel and unusual punishment. On Sept. 19, U.S. District Judge Young Kim refused to dismiss the case.

"As a practical matter, it is difficult to understand how the sound of running water, even if constant, could be so loud that it presents the kind of extreme deprivation that is required to make out a conditions-of-confinement claim," she wrote. "On the other hand, the Seventh Circuit and other courts have acknowledged that incessant loud noise in a prisoner's cell can satisfy the objective criteria."

Kim noted that at the summary-judgment stage, Millsapp will have to prove that the noise from the sink was inhumanely loud.

Millsapp also sufficiently showed that Moreci both knew about the risk to his health and consciously disregarded it. "Millsapp not only alleges that he wrote Moreci letters begging to have his sink fixed or to be housed in a different cell, he also alleges that his family members called Moreci and repeated those pleas," the eight-page judgment states.

Kim also noted Millsapp's claim that the laughing incident allegedly occurred "shortly after his family placed their calls," implying "that Moreci was mocking Millsap's complaints" and therefore must have known of them.

"Taken together, these allegations are sufficient to show that Moreci knew about the noise in Millsap's cell and disregarded the alleged risk that condition caused to Millsapp's health," the court concluded.

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