CHICAGO (CN) — Inmates railing against conditions at a Lake County, Illinois, jail filed a federal class action Monday, claiming officials deliberately shut off water, leaving them unable to meet their basic needs.
Lake County Adult Correctional Facility inmate Tapanga Hardeman and four other inmates sued the Lake County and Sheriff Mark Curran in Chicago. They claim they did not have enough water to drink and stay hydrated, take medications, brush their teeth, and wash and flush toilets.
The water was shut off from Nov. 7 through Nov. 10 at the seven-story facility in downtown Waukegan, the inmates say. Their attorney Kevin O’Connor said Monday that the jail's treatment of inmates constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
“You can't deny people their basic need of food, water and sanitation,” O'Connor said in telephone interview. “That's the three basic elements everyone's entitled to.”
He said jail officials told people they could not file a grievance, and that the inmates would seek an injunction to make sure inmates are fairly treated if water is shut off again.
"This is to a new and higher level than anything I’ve heard come out of Lake County, and if it goes unchecked, our fear is it will rise to higher levels in the future,” O'Connor added.
County spokeswoman Cynthia Vargas said the county had “no knowledge” of the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Lake County, pop. 705,000, begins just north of Chicago’s wealth North Shore suburbs and extends to the Wisconsin state line. Its inmates “were forced to live inhumanely” in “unsanitary conditions, and were deprived of the necessary amount of drinking water to keep them hydrated, and to satisfy basic health and medical needs,” the lawsuit states.
“As a result, Lake County Jail inmates, including but not limited to the plaintiffs, suffered from a variety of ailments, including but not limited to dehydration, migraine headaches, sickness, dizziness, constipation, and general malaise.”
County officials said at the time that inmates were not harmed by the planned outage and had ample water, according to the Lake County News-Sun.
Undersheriff Dave Hare told the newspaper there had been no formal complaints. In November, Hare said the 740-capacity jail houses 580 inmates. Officials said the shutdown was for 48 hours and was necessary to install a new booster pump to improve water pressure at the jail.
But in his lawsuit, Hardeman says jailers limited inmates to five bottles of water a day, and denied requests for more bottles.
Inmates were limited to one barrel of water for each cluster of cells to bathe, clean their cells and flush toilets, Hardeman says: not enough to flush feces away. That created a foul odor, causing inmates to become sick and attracted bugs, according to the lawsuit.
The inmates seek class certification, a jury trial and damages for constitutional violations.