Allegheny County Jail sued for alleged assaults on women with psychiatric disabilities

The lawsuit claims the three plaintiffs were burned with chemical irritants, strapped to a restraint chair and, in one case, physically beaten.

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Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

Allegheny County Jail. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Three formerly incarcerated women with disabilities are suing the Allegheny County Jail [ACJ] for being allegedly assaulted by a corrections officer. 

In the federal lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday evening, the women, who are being represented by the Abolitionist Law Center, Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and K&L Gates, claim ACJ Sergeant John Raible assaulted them by burning them with chemical irritants such as pepper spray and OC pellets, strapping them into a restraint chair and, in one case, physically beating one of the women.

The complaint also names Warden Orlando Harper and three other jail officials as defendants for failing to “adequately train, supervise and discipline ACJ corrections officers for such conduct,” which it claims has resulted in “the rampant use of unlawful and unconstitutional force” on inmates.

The county does not comment on lawsuits or legal matters, spokesperson Amie Downs wrote in an email to PublicSource. 

According to the lawsuit, Raible pepper sprayed 27-year-old April Walker when she was two months pregnant and slammed her face into the concrete floor, resulting in her hospitalization. Walker has asthma, bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and PTSD, the complaint says. 

It also claims that Raible pepper sprayed 35-year-old LaVonna Dorsey while she was locked naked in a “strip cage” and then placed her in a restraint chair, causing injuries. Dorsey has chronic asthma, severe anxiety, depression and PTSD, according to the complaint.

Raible is accused of locking the third plaintiff, 25-year-old Alexus Diggs, in a “strip cage” and shooting her with OC pellets, which contain the same burning irritant as pepper spray, because she possessed a pen. He then placed her in a restraint chair without decontaminating her first, causing her skin to burn from the chemical irritant, the lawsuit alleges. Diggs has bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and complex PTSD, the complaint says.

In 2019, ACJ reported 720 uses of force on incarcerated individuals – a per capita rate twice as high as the average for Pennsylvania jails, according to the Abolitionist Law Center — and confined incarcerated people in a restraint chair 339 times, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

The complaint follows a September class-action lawsuit against ACJ for allegedly mistreating inmates with psychiatric disabilities.

“Raible’s actions are horrifying and have no place in our society,” stated Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, Managing Attorney for the PA Institutional Law Project, in a press release. “More troubling, however, is the absolute disregard shown by his supervisors to a clear pattern of torture and discrimination against women with disabilities.”

Juliette Rihl is a reporter for PublicSource. She can be reached at juliette@publicsource.org or on Twitter @JulietteRihl.

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