Critics say protesters arrested after Alton Sterling’s fatal shooting in Baton Rouge were subjected to excessive force, including the indiscriminate use of pepper spray by guards, and spent hours or days locked in overcrowded cells “caked with grime and blood.” The jail’s warden denies any wrongdoing by guards.
Scores of protesters arrested last summer after Alton Sterling’s fatal shooting were treated “like animals” and humiliated inside the East Baton Rouge, La., Parish Prison, charges a scathing new report that describes the lockup’s conditions as so bad as to be unconstitutional, The Advocate reports. The demonstrators, most of whom were booked on counts of obstructing a highway, were subjected to excessive force, including the indiscriminate use of pepper spray by guards, and spent hours or days locked in overcrowded cells “caked with grime and blood,” says The Promise of Justice Initiative, a New Orleans-based advocacy group. The report accuses guards of retaliating against protesters for participating in demonstrations that went on for days after the fatal shooting of Sterling in a confrontation with police outside a convenience store.
Te report alleges that the mistreatment of the protesters reflects a more systemic oppression inmates endure at the jail on a daily basis. It asserts that the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office “appears to encourage or at least tolerate abusive and humiliating conduct of guards.” The jail’s warden, Dennis Grimes, defended the actions of his guards as “appropriate, professional and well within constitutional standards,” adding they “at all times acted appropriately.” The report offers a detailed window into what it describes as the “unconstitutional hardship” the protesters endured, including the repeated denial of medical treatment inside the jail, whether for injuries sustained during arrest or some other pre-existing condition. “How we treat the people we incarcerate defines us, and when we take people who are protesting racism and violence and treat them with brute force, it divides our communities, undermines our confidence in the justice system and demeans all of us,” said G. Ben Cohen of The Promise of Justice Initiative. “We owe folks a better system.”