Inmates accuse Richmond jail staff of deploying tear gas on them, prepare to file suit

Inmates accuse Richmond jail staff of deploying tear gas on them, prepare to file suit

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Allegations of abuse at the Richmond jail find human rights advocates preparing to file a suit.

Inmates say jail officers deployed tear gas inside of the jail on two separate occasions, in late August and again in September. It allegedly happened at the height of recent protests, and tear gas is just one of the issues they’re finding fault with.

“Suddenly you can’t breathe. You cry for help. No one shows up. In that moment, you think you’re going to die,” said Julea Seliavski of RVA 26, reading a message from an inmate who feels he can’t speak for himself.

“Imagine a night spent in jail for speeding ending in near-death experiences…We are still humans here,” Clayton Wickham of RVA Magazine continued on behalf of an inmate.

Gathered outside of the Richmond Jail Thursday, human rights advocates joined attorney Connor Bleakley calling for action. They say it all started when protests were happening outside of the jail earlier this year. That’s when officers inside the jail allegedly told inmates to go back into their cells. Some of them didn’t.

“The refusal to go into their cells should not be construed as something that was violent. There was no prison riot here,” Bleakley said.

Bleakley says a few of them remained outside of their cells because they were concerned about whether the jail was properly separating inmates who had COVID-19.

“At that point, some of the cells had already been locked, those outside couldn’t get back in so they went and stood next to their cells because they couldn’t get back in,” Bleakley said. “At that point is when correctional officers, from what I’ve been told, slipped in tear gas through the vents and doors and really let the place fill up with tear gas.”

He says even inmates who did go back to their jail cells were subjected.

“Using a chemical that is meant for the outdoors inside, where there’s no ventilation, where a person can’t get fresh air, where the chemical can’t spread out and dissipate is going to be dangerous for the people involved…They essentially decided on a collective punishment, something that is banned by the 8th Amendment of the United States,” Bleakley said.

“Those tactical weapons were not designed for indoor use. To maximize the efforts of the weapon, our ventilation system was shut off. What about the offenders who were already locked in their cells? What about the elderly? How about the individuals with health issues? On top of that, a COVID pandemic…Just because we’re locked in a cell - which mimics a cage - doesn’t mean that we are animals,” Seliavski continued reading the message from an inmate.

NBC12 contacted Sheriff Antoinette Irving about the allegations. When it comes to the tear gas complaints, she respectfully said she can’t comment since the attorney is planning to take this matter to court. When it comes to coronavirus, the sheriff said the jail is following CDC guidelines and actively separating inmates who test positive and quarantining others who may be exposed.

Bleakley says the suit is expected to be filed within the next couple of weeks.

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