Muslim inmates sue US prison over alleged pepper-spray incident during prayer

3/14/2023 4:56 PM

A lawsuit has been filed by a US Muslim civil rights group against officials of the Missouri prison system for allegedly pepper-spraying Muslim inmates during their prayers.

The Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed the lawsuit last week, which accuses the officials of violating the inmates’ constitutional rights, including the right to freely practice their religion.

According to the lawsuit, the incident occurred two years ago when nine Muslim prisoners were reportedly praying in a common area when an officer instructed them to stop.  

The inmates said they had previously prayed together without any problems but on this occasion, approximately twenty officers responded to the scene.  

Two inmates stopped praying and moved away, while the other two were handcuffed after they stopped praying."

According to the lawsuit, five men were pepper-sprayed, some while handcuffed, and one prisoner was subjected to physical assault.  

“Viewing Muslims as nothing more than a gang, more than a dozen guards participated in this violent episode," says the lawsuit.  

"The brutality began as an effort to disrupt Muslims praying together but morphed into a protracted effort to punish those who prayed—dispersing Plaintiffs throughout the state via transfers and otherwise retaliating against them," it added.

The right to practice religion  

Following the incident, guards reportedly placed seven of the inmates, who still had pepper spray on their bodies, in isolation cells. The inmates were not given medical evaluations or allowed to clean the pepper spray.

Some men were transferred to other prisons without justification, while others were reportedly subjected to repeated physical abuse and humiliation or faced retaliation after filing complaints, the lawsuit alleges.  

The defendants are facing accusations of violating the inmates' constitutional rights, which include the right to practice their religion freely, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and protection from racial discrimination.

“The treatment these incarcerees were reportedly subjected to is appalling and in complete violation not only of their legal rights but their basic human dignity,” said CAIR-Missouri Board Chair Yasir Ali. “We are hopeful that justice will prevail in this case and those who are guilty will be held accountable.”

“This lawsuit is about holding state officials to account and upholding the rights of all citizens,” said CAIR Civil Rights Attorney Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer. “Once a person enters a correctional facility, they do not lose their most basic rights and become an open target for violence and abuse.”