A settlement was reached Monday in a lawsuit filed by inmate James J. Ramirez against the Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City. Ramirez was the victim of a jailhouse beating that left him with nine broken ribs, fractured wrists and a collapsed lung. His lawsuit was one of many filed by inmates of the center alleging unsafe and unclean conditions over the past few months. The county has agreed to pay out $437,500.
According to Ramirez’s attorneys, their client was being held on a Benton County warrant for an alleged probation violation. The man was going through alcohol withdrawal and not in his right mind on July 4, 2015, when he was attacked by guards on two separate occasions. They slammed him into the wall, punched him repeatedly and pinned him to the floor with knees to his back and neck. Other guards present stood by and laughed until a supervisor approached and the attack ended. It would pick up again later into the night. Ramirez was admitted to Truman Medical Center at 4 a.m. July 5, 2015, with multiple bruises, broken wrists and ribs, a collapsed lung and and three fractured vertebrae.
Defendants named in the lawsuit include the correctional officers responsible for administering the beatings, a guard who stood by and watched, and top officials including Deputy Director Rex Tarwater and Director Joe Piccinini. The lawsuit states there was broken camera equipment and missing surveillance cameras in the facility which allowed the beatings to occur relatively undetected.
The assaults were a reflection of the unconstitutional culture and poor living conditions at the Jackson County Detention Center, according to the filing, where there has been “a widespread pattern of using excessive force”. The documents also alleged that inmates have historically been assaulted, raped and made to live in filth. In September, a male inmate claimed to be raped by another male while a female guard did nothing to stop the incident. In a lawsuit related to that matter, the inmate claimed the guard handed his attacker a bag of what appeared to be cocaine in the middle of the assault and walked away. Two weeks prior, two women also reported sexual assaults by male inmates who they claimed were able to roam the hallways freely at night.
Allegations of corruption have also been made against jailhouse officials, including the acceptance of bribes by officers and distribution of contraband. Approximately two hundred law enforcement officers searched the Jackson County Detention Center in Kansas City for several hours this week as part of an ongoing investigation.
Ramirez’s case was the catalyst in the FBI’s decision to look into the conditions of the center, as were at least three inmate-to-inmate sexual assaults and one inmate death. Consulting firms have been brought in to take a closer look at the facility and some of the findings from their audits are expected to be released to the public next month, which may include ways to improve security measures for the nearly 900 inmates and staff, and possible plans for expansion.