Several days ago, the ACLU announced a lawsuit against prison officials at the Utah State Prison in Draper over the use of tear gas in 2010 that severely affected inmates in the mental-health wing, Olympus.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU and Christensen & Jensen attorney Karra Porter noted that CS gas came into Olympus cells via the ventilation system. "Prisoners began screaming, yelling, kicking their doors, and otherwise desperately attempting to get the attention of prison personnel. Many prisoners believed that the wing was on fire, and/or they were going to die."
Olympus inmates aren't the only ones to have suffered the noxious effects of CS gas as employed by corrections staff. A more recent example of its deployment took place in Uinta 1, the maximum-security wing of the prison, on July 14, 2012.
Paul Payne, the subject of a recent CW cover profile, filed a grievance with the prison in which he detailed how corrections officers had used a CS "bomb" to remove inmate Andrew Lindsay from the shower.
Payne wrote in his grievance that when the prison's SWAT extraction team threw a CS gas bomb into the shower in order to remove the apparently unruly inmate, the gas "permeated the entire section and enterred [sic] my cell through the door and exhaust vent, which were shut off after the gas was deployed. I have asthema [sic] and experienced respiratory complications, burning skin, burning swollen eyes and had to be removed from my cell and seen by a med tech."
In other documentation, the unruly inmate is identified by both prison staff and Payne as being in the cell next to Payne.
The use of CS gas inside cells had been approved by the warden and executive director, according to SWAT staff, Payne wrote. For the next four hours after the bomb was used, "no guard would come in the section w/o a gas mask and hood/helmet and they had to run some industrial fan for six hours to clean out the air."
Payne argued that the prison's employment of what he called "an extreme measure" was unnecessary because, just the night before, corrections officers had subdued two prisoners in similar situations to Lindsay by using "O.C.," aka pepper spray.
The prison grievance system is structured so that inmates have to go through three time-consuming levels of grievance filing and appeals, if unsatisfied with the prison's answers, before potentially being able to seek a judicial solution to their concern.
The prison's grievance response to Payne's complaint—which he filed several times—at level one notes that "non-combatant inmates that are exposed to a chemical agents used by the UDC are to be allowed the opportunity to decontaminate themselves by flushing their eyes with water from their in cell sink [sic]."
In a level 2 response, a prison official wrote, "The use of chemical agents to control unruly, out-of-control inmates is a standard non-lethal method used by prisons throughout the U.S. including the Bureau of Prisons. The use of non-lethal force is not a violation of any right protected by the U.S. or Utah constitutions."
The ACLU and Porter's lawsuit on behalf of five inmates who were in Olympus in 2010 -- in an incident where the gas was released outside the section but by a ventilation unit, however -- viewed such an act as both presenting "an obvious and known substantial risk of serious injury for which there was no reasonable justification at the time," and a violation of the inmates' constitutional rights "to be free from cruel and unusual punishment."