Two years ago, Miami-Dade County closed the ninth floor of its Pre-Trial Detention Center, which held mentally ill inmates in putrid, dangerous, and obscene conditions. For years, CBS 4 had dubbed the ward the "Forgotten Floor," and the U.S. Department of Justice called the conditions there unconstitutional.
Although the county is now building a safer facility to hold mentally ill inmates awaiting trial, it appears the trouble continues. Army veteran Mark Young says that — after being thrown in a cell covered in human feces — he was beaten for trying to simply clean the walls. When the beating ended, the Miamian says, he was rushed to the hospital, where doctors were forced to remove his spleen.
On September 8, Young sued Miami-Dade County and eight jail guards for battery, false imprisonment, violating his constitutional rights, and other claims.
"Prisoners' rights in general are an incredibly important issue," Young's lawyer, Michael Corey, tells New Times. "It's a somewhat sensitive topic for the general public, but from the perspective of the individual confined, it’s everything."
Miami-Dade County declined to comment.
According to the suit, Young served in the U.S. Army in Guatemala and Panama before a 1982 honorable discharge. He was later diagnosed with major depression, schizoaffective disorder, and substance-abuse issues that related to his military service.
On August 26, 2014, he was arrested on sexual battery charges, which were later dropped. After his arrest, he was assigned to cell 9B2 on the detention center's ninth floor to await trial.
But a week later, on September 2, Young says, he was moved to the nearby cell 9B3 for "no apparent reason." Strangely, that two-person cell had only one inmate inside.
"The reason for this single occupancy became apparent to Mark when he approached the cell and saw the current occupant in a catatonic state, blankly staring at the ceiling of Cell 9B3," the suit says. "While he may have been in a catatonic state, this unknown inmate had made it perfectly clear that he was not interested in having cell mates. He did this by carefully spreading his own urine and feces across the floor, over the toilet, and against the walls of Cell 9B3."
Understandably upset about being locked in a cell covered in human waste, Young then sat down in the hallway and "peacefully refused to enter the putrid cell," the suit says. A guard then allegedly grabbed him by the back of his collar and threw him into the cell.
Young says he then tried to ask for a mop. When he wasn't given one, he says, he then felt like he had no choice but to soak his sheets in soap and water to clean the cell walls. But there wasn't a sink in the cell, so Young was forced to dunk the sheets in the toilet, he says.
Guards stood by watching and then barged in screaming, the suit says. "F*** you, n*****r," Young claims one guard shouted. (Young is black.) "You gonna flood the cell?"
That guard then allegedly punched Young in the face. Young says he crumpled to the ground while the guard punched him in the ribs and face and kneed him in the sternum. He says two officers then picked him up and body-slammed him onto the ground. He says he landed on his head.
After the two guards left, Young says, they returned "10-15 minutes" later and gave him another, fresh beating, the inmate contends. This time, after the guards allegedly stood on Young's head as they walloped him, he passed out. When he came to, the officers allegedly transferred a weeping Young to the suicide-watch wing.
Eventually, doctors examined Young — one ignored his requests for pain medication. On September 4, Young says, a second doctor examined him without helping him. The next day, a third doctor finally sent him to the medical ward. While there, Young's attorney contacted Miami-Dade Corrections, which moved Young to a new facility, the Metro-West Detention Center.
By the time Young arrived September 8, the suit says, Young's "stomach was severely distended and he was suffering extreme dizziness." The next day, he was sent for
A doctor who examined his stomach then allegedly shouted, "He's got internal bleeding! Get him out of here!" He was then rushed to Kendall Regional Medical Center, where doctors were forced to remove his spleen.
Bizarrely, the suit says, a Miami-Dade Incident Report written after the ordeal said Young "suffered no injuries" during the beating.
Young claims his beating fits into the long, documented history of issues with Miami-Dade Corrections. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice said Miami's jails "place corrections officers and prisoners at risk of life-threatening harm."
"The Pre-Trial Detention Center has a pretty well-documented history of civil rights abuses in the past," Corey, Young's lawyer, says. "If you take a look at the Department of Justice letter, it's almost as though Mark’s case could be listed right along with the rest of them."
He then implored the public to put themselves in the shoes of Miami's inmates. "If somebody can put themselves into that situation, they can understand how helpless that person is, how at mercy they are to the people and the institutions confining them," Corey said. "I think the issue is so important."
Plus, he added, his client hadn't even been convicted of a crime.