Florida Prisons

Disabled inmate sues Florida over bathroom ban

An inmate is suing the state Department of Corrections, claiming he was denied use of the bathroom.
An inmate is suing the state Department of Corrections, claiming he was denied use of the bathroom.

A disabled prisoner who uses a wheelchair is suing the Florida Department of Corrections, alleging that he was denied use of a restroom by officers, who laughed at him as he urinated on himself.

Inmate Donnie Phillips filed the lawsuit against the officers, contending that they violated his civil rights under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.

In January, a disability rights group filed a federal lawsuit against the state, alleging that the prison system has routinely discriminated against prisoners who are deaf, blind or in wheelchairs, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to the lawsuit, handicap showers and toilets are frequently not available for people in wheelchairs.

Wheelchairs are often taken away from inmates in confinement, the suit says.

Disability Rights Florida, which filed the suit, also claims that guards and other prison staff frequently refuse to allow handicapped inmates to participate in programs available to other inmates.

The violations cause inmates to suffer “humiliation, indignity and difficulties.” The group details complaints by 32 inmates who were repeatedly denied assistance and threatened with punishment if they complained.

Records show that Phillips filed more than a dozen complaints and grievances in 2015 while at Mayo Correctional Institution’s annex. He described indignities such as having to wear a diaper and suffering severe rashes because he was not given access to a restroom, according to his lawsuit.

Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a motion to dismiss Phillips’ suit, which claims the defendants were deliberately indifferent to his medical needs. Phillips is also seeking a frequent urination pass, a urinal jug and more than $100,000 in damages.

Bondi claims that Phillips has failed to prove that he has a “serious medical need’’ or that he suffered any pain.

All of Phillips’ complaints were denied by the department, or referred to medical personnel.

“Could I please have access to wipes to clean myself up?” he wrote in one complaint filed in December. “I have burns from my Depends and need help.’’

FDC responded that he needed to request a sick call.

Phillips, 55, is serving 15 years in prison on drug charges. He is now assigned to Franklin Correctional Institution.

FDC does not comment on pending litigation.

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