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ACLU Sues Pueblo County Sheriff for Disclosure of Restraint Policy and Videotape


March 21, 2000

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) filed suit today against Pueblo County Sheriff Dan Corsentino, arguing that the Colorado Open Records Act requires him to disclose his jail's policy on the use of restraints, including the use of controversial devices such as the restraint board and the restraint chair. The lawsuit also seeks disclosure of a videotape made when Pueblo County Sheriff's deputies strapped inmate Kenneth Bishop into the jail's restraint chair on December 18, 1998. Bishop died in custody shortly afterward.


When interviewed by reporters at the time, Sheriff Corsentino said that his officers were not responsible for Bishop's death in the chair. After watching the 30-minute videotape at least five times, he said he was convinced that his deputies followed his department's policies and procedures. "I wish I could show you the video, but I can't show it to you until the internal affairs investigation is done," Corsentino said at the time.


When the internal investigation was over, the ACLU requested a copy of the jail's restraint policies and an opportunity to view the video. Corsentino refused. A series of letters from the ACLU failed to change the Sheriff's mind, the lawsuit says.


"Sheriff Corsentino assured the public that Mr. Bishop's death had nothing to do with the use of the controversial restraint chair," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "He declared that his deputies followed his policies, but now he won't let the public read those policies. The Open Records Act forbids this kind of government secrecy."


According to the ACLU, there is a strong public interest in full disclosure of policies and practices governing devices such as the restraint chair and the restraint board. Prisoners in Colorado and around the country have endured serious injury and death while restrained in such devices, the lawsuit asserts, prompting public controversy, investigations, and lawsuits.


A restraint board was implicated in the death of inmate Michael Lewis in the El Paso County Jail in May, 1998, and the ACLU subsequently filed a class action lawsuit challenging the use of the device. In a settlement announced last month, Sheriff John Anderson agreed to halt the use of the board and to permit the ACLU to monitor the jail's use of other restraint devices, including the restraint chair, for the next two years. The ACLU is also negotiating with the La Plata County Jail over its use of restraints.


The ACLU says it has had no problem obtaining restraint policies from half a dozen other Colorado sheriffs. "Sheriff Corsentino is the only Colorado sheriff who has not provided his restraint policies after receiving a written request." Silverstein said.


In recent years, the ACLU of Colorado has filed two other lawsuits [Police Misconduct at TJ High School, Officers Accused of Manhandling Gil Webb] seeking documents from law enforcement agencies under the Open Records Act. In each case, the ACLU succeeded in obtaining a court order that forced the Denver Police Department to disclose documents connected with an internal investigation into alleged police misconduct.

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