Class action civil rights suit brought against state on behalf of mentally ill prisoners

By Louisiana Record reports | Aug 16, 2014

BATON ROUGE – A number of people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and found not guilty by reason of insanity are suing the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals over their continued incarceration.

Brandon Cooper, Louis Davenport, Ron Gatlin, Kenny Swatt, Stephen Zeringue and William Pitzer filed suit against Kathy Kliebert, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in her official capacity and the Louisiana Department Of Health and Hospitals in the Middle District of Louisiana on Aug. 14.

The named plaintiffs are all mentally ill who have been found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity, but have been incarcerated in Louisiana prisons. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs have been denied access to mental healthcare while incarcerated and thus violating their 14th amendment right to due process. The plaintiffs have all been assigned to state maintained or designated mental health facilities since being found not guilty by reason of insanity for various crimes, including battery, arson and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, but have instead been held at local correctional facilities for months despite no criminal charges being filed against them.

According to the lawsuit, after a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity state law states that the criminal defendant must be assessed within a timely manner by the court to determine if they should be committed to a mental health facility or released. However, the plaintiffs claim, without being convicted of a crime, they have been held in local jails for prolonged periods while waiting for a spot to open up at a mental treatment facility where they would receive proper mental healthcare.

The defendant is accused of violation of due process, violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act and violation of section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act.

An unspecified amount in damages is sought to certify the class action, providing injunctive relief to prohibit the defendants from confining those with disabilities prior to being committed to a mental health facility, award plaintiffs and their attorneys fees and costs.

The plaintiffs are represented by New Orleans-based attorneys Ronald K. Lospennato of the Advocacy Center and Katie M. Schwartzmann of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans.

The case has been assigned to U.S. Federal District Judge Shelly D. Dick.

Case no. 3:14-cv-00507.

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