Autistic Florida Man Sues Prison Over Solitary Confinement

Dean Higgins, FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

“A person might be arrested for treating a dog like this.”

Claiming he was beaten and sent to isolation after an epileptic seizure, a Florida prisoner sues

By Veronica Penney, Aug 22, 2019

Miami Herald – Last September, a 28-year-old autistic man experienced an epileptic seizure at Desoto Correctional Institution, about 50 miles north of Fort Myers.

Instead of receiving prompt medical care, he alleges he was beaten by corrections officers, then placed in isolation for the balance of his two-year sentence.

Dean Higgins is now suing the Florida Department of Corrections and the officers involved in the encounter, alleging cruel and unusual punishment, violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, use of excessive force and battery.

It is the latest in a flurry of suits involving the prison system and inmates with disabilities, despite a lawsuit settlement two years back that purported to improve the treatment of prisoners with mental and physical frailties.

The lawsuit says after the confrontation he was held in a six-by-eight-foot room with concrete walls, where “raw sewage would seep into Higgins’ cell, at times a number of inches deep.”

Higgins claims that cell conditions made sleeping difficult and that he was reprimanded for using his arm to shield his eyes from overhead lights that were turned off only between 1 and 5 a.m.

“A person might be arrested for treating a dog like this,” said Benjamin Stevenson, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Higgins.

The Department of Corrections declined a request for comment, saying it doesn’t weigh in on pending lawsuits.

Asked whether a Florida prison cell could actually be that small, Michelle Glady, spokeswoman for the department, said it depends on the institution.

The lawsuit claims that other than thrice-weekly showers, Higgins mostly spent his time alone, and “only left his isolation cell less than a couple dozen times.”

The ACLU says Higgins experienced the seizure on Sept. 27, 2018.

It alleges that when a Desoto corrections officer tried to hold Higgins down, Higgins bit the officer … Read more. 

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