Inmates with Disabilities Sue L.A. County Sheriff

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Jail inmates with disabilities are suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff. They say the county jail system routinely fails to accommodate their basic needs, using a toilet or a shower, or getting a glass of water. KPCC's Brian Watt reports.

Brian Watt: Attorneys for the inmates say people with disabilities begin to suffer at the jail system's front gate. Attorney John Ulin says the reception center through which all inmates must pass has no accessible toilet.

John Ulin: Inmates who are being processed in the L.A. County jail system often must sit in their own waste, for hours on end, if not longer.

Watt: From there, says Ulin, it gets worse. The system often misclassifies inmates with disabilities and houses them with the general population. One plaintiff, 26-year-old Michael Curfman, suffers from traumatic brain injury following a car accident. Curfman can get around with a walker. But because his left side is paralyzed, he could really use a wheelchair.

In the complaint, he said that when the system moved him from the Twin Towers facility to Men's Central Jail, it also took the wheelchair he was using. It took four months, he said, to obtain a walker. His mother, Cynthia Magnesi, said Curfman's fallen many times when he's tried to bathe.

Cynthia Magnesi: It doesn't take much to put a shower chair in the shower, an arm rail in the shower, or in the cell by the toilet, so these people can help themselves.

Watt: Magnesi's son is one of three named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. The attorneys estimate that about 1,000 inmates with disabilities occupy L.A. County's jails at any given time. The suit isn't seeking monetary damages. The plaintiffs say they only want improvements that would bring the jails into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said his department is doing the best it can with aging facilities.

Steve Whitmore: A jail up north for example called the South facility, as well as the men's central jail – they were built, South, back in the '50s, and men's central, early '60s – long before requirements. And we began the improvements.

Watt: Whitmore said the sheriff's department expects to get the money to build new jails in the next several months, and it plans to comply with the federal accommodation law.