Allegations in an affidavit don’t equal truth. But a court document’s descriptions of what disabled and mentally ill inmates have endured in the Sedgwick County Jail are too shocking to be ignored, in the upcoming sheriff election or otherwise.
According to an article by Tim Potter in the Sunday Eagle, affidavits filed in the federal civil rights lawsuit related to the 2008 beating of 59-year-old inmate Edgar Richard Jr. describe the jail as a place where such inmates have been subjected to beatings, abuse, neglect and humiliation.
A statement by a sergeant, who is now on leave but has spent 15 years with the Sheriff’s Office, recounted how deputies used excessive force without consequence; routinely referred to “mentally ill or retarded persons as mentals, crazies, retards and idiots”; and held a contest in which songs, slogans and “art” ridiculed the mentally ill. At least six watch commanders and other top sheriff’s officials saw the openly displayed “art,” the sergeant said, with words misspelled and written backward to mock the mentally ill and disabled. Worse, according to her affidavit, the contest’s “judge” was the undersheriff who oversees the office’s professional standards unit, and the contest’s creator recently was promoted.
“A custom and a routine existed to allow some inmates to be beaten or roughed up. I heard of things like inmate-on-inmate beatings before, during and after Edgar Richard,” the sergeant said in the affidavit.
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Former deputy Manuel Diaz received 18 months of probation for reckless aggravated battery in the beating of Richard, who was knocked unconscious, suffered a severely broken jaw, ended up in a nursing home and later died of stomach cancer.
But as described in the affidavits from the sergeant and a former inmate whose cell was next to Richard’s at the time of the beating, the mistreatment of the mentally ill and developmentally disabled at the jail sounded systemic.
Tuesday’s report of an alleged recent rape at the jail deepened concern.
The picture is all the more disturbing because it so clashes with the good work Sedgwick County and Sheriff Robert Hinshaw have done on issues related to mental illness, especially in recent years.
In an effort to deal with individuals with mental illnesses as humanely and cost-effectively as possible, the county has worked with the city of Wichita and other partners on programs such as Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement, the Sedgwick County Offender Assessment Program and mental health court. Hinshaw and others have advocated devoting a pod of the jail to its mentally ill population. Hinshaw also won the “Services to the Community” award for 2010 from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill chapter in Wichita.
Hinshaw told The Eagle that he and other sheriff’s personnel can’t comment on the allegations because of ongoing litigation.
But he and those challenging him for sheriff, Jeff Easter in the Aug. 7 GOP primary and Democrat Jefrey Weinman in the November election, need to be pressed about the jail’s operation.
Whether in jail or interacting with law enforcement in the community, individuals with mental illness or disability deserve to be treated humanely and respectfully. And those locked up for the public’s safety should not have to fear for their own.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman