The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana on Thursday asked Louisiana State Penitentiary officials to investigate allegations of the misuse of pepper spray and other chemical irritants on inmates.
Marjorie R. Esman, the ACLU’s Louisiana executive director, said her office has received numerous allegations of excessive or unjustified use of chemical agents.
“Specifics vary, but the theme of each account is the same: With increasing frequency and decreasing restraint, corrections officers … are using chemical irritants upon offenders in inappropriate ways,” Esman wrote in a letter to Angola Warden Burl Cain.
“The spray is not being used sparingly to discipline unruly or disobedient inmates, but gratuitously to punish offenders who pose no threat and are engaged in lawful activity,” the letter says.
The letter asks Angola officials to provide the ACLU with a copy of all guidelines, rules and regulations applicable to chemical spray, while also investigating to ensure that the rules are being followed.
The ACLU also wants a report on Angola’s investigation, the letter says.
Assistant Warden Bruce Dodd, a lawyer, said prison officials will “pull what they’ve asked for” Friday.
“We feel like we’re in compliance and have not abused anyone,” Dodd said, adding he cannot comment further without looking into specific allegations.
Esman said the allegations include:
- Discharging chemical spray to locked, unventilated cells and allowing it to linger for hours.
- Spraying for complaining about minor problems, such as not being allowed to shower or requesting emergency medical assistance.
- Several inmates complaining that they were sprayed for filing administrative grievances, in violation of their First Amendment rights.
“Inmates state that on several occasions, without instigation, they were taken in groups to the showers, stripped naked, doused with pepper spray and simply returned to their cells without explanation,” Esman said in the letter.
The law does not allow the use of chemical agents on inmates for purely punitive or malicious purposes, Esman wrote, citing a number of federal court cases on the issue.