BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A former inmate is suing a private prison company, saying guards watched as he was beaten by a fellow inmate in an attack that went on so long his assailant had time to stop and drink some water before continuing.
Attorneys for Hanni Elabed filed the lawsuit against the Correction Corporation of America in Boise’s U.S. District Court late last week, saying their client was left brain damaged and may never fully recover from the assault at the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise.
Elabed is asking for punitive damages and compensation in an amount to be proven in court.
Steven Owens, the public affairs director for CCA, said the Nashville, Tenn.-based company doesn’t comment on lawsuits other than through court filings.
According to the lawsuit, Elabed was serving time on a robbery conviction when he was beaten. His attorneys said at least three guards and another ICC staffer watched while he was stomped and kicked, and that they failed to intervene even when his attacker stopped for several minutes to get a drink and catch his breath.
The lawsuit echoes complaints lodged in other recent lawsuits against the company in which other Idaho inmates allege they were knowingly exposed to violence from other inmates and then denied proper medical care in an effort to cover up the extent of their injuries.
Elabed’s case, however, details what may be the most extreme allegations yet to come out of the state’s only private prison.
Elabed was 24 in 2008 and addicted to Oxycontin, when he pleaded guilty to robbery and was sentenced to two to 12 years in prison. He was transferred to the Idaho Correctional Center, where Elabed, who is Muslim and of Palestinian decent, told his family he was being harassed by inmates — including his cellmate — who were members of a white supremacist gang.
The lawsuit said the harassment escalated until his cellmate attacked Elabed and broke his jawbone. After that attack, Elabed was moved to another cellblock within the prison where he said the gang abused and threatened him.
The lawsuit said he tried to get help from prison staffers, telling them that he’d been threatened and giving them details about drug trafficking between inmates and staffers that he had witnessed.
That prompted ICC officials to move Elabed to administrative segregation for several days, according to the lawsuit, before moving him back into the same cellblock. Just before the move, Elabed told his parents that he believed several guards were planning to tell the other inmates that he had identified them as drug traffickers.
He was moved into the cellblock on Jan. 18 and within minutes of his arrival, he was attacked by one of the gang members “in plain view of video surveillance cameras and multiple ICC staff who passively observed from behind a window,” Elabed’s attorney, Benjamin Schwartzman, wrote.
The guards ordered all the inmates to their rooms, according to the lawsuit, leaving only Elabed and his assailant in the main area.
His attorney said the attacker then knocked Elabed to the floor and stomped on his head. He described the blows as “delivered with such ferocity and energy that the attacking gang member was forced to catch his breath and refresh himself at a drinking fountain, afterward.”
Elabed claimed that during the break, he managed to get up and pleaded with guards who continued to watch as his assailant resumed the attack.
The beating didn’t end until he was unconscious and convulsing in a pool of blood, the lawsuit said.
Elabed’s attorney said staffers had an ambulance take Elabed to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with traumatic subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. They prevented the hospital from taking any pictures of Elabed’s injuries, the lawsuit said, and removed him after he was stabilized in an overnight stay.
His attorney said Elabed was returned to the hospital three days later after he was not given treatment at the prison. Elabed later was given a medical parole, his attorney said.
His attorney added that since the beating, his client gets confused easily, jumps at loud noises and can’t keep his attention focused. He soothes himself by rocking and rubbing his arms, and has significant mental impairment, Schwartzman said.
“We know that he was normal before. He was no honor student, but he could hold down a job. Now he gets confused trying to put his own clothes away …,” Schwartzman said.
The case is complicated in part because Elabed lost his memory of the beating and the events preceding it, Schwartzman said. His attorneys have had to rely on witness accounts to determine much of what happened but they said the stories are consistent.
The Ada County prosecutor has charged James Haver, an inmate serving time for aggravated assault and battery, with aggravated battery in connection with Elabed’s case. A preliminary hearing for Haver has been set for May.