The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections in March, claiming that officials assaulted a group of Muslim inmates during their prayers, reported the Associated Press.
The incident took place at the Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne, Terre, Missouri. On Feb. 28, 2021, as nine men prayed together for the fourth time that day, an officer suddenly ordered them to stop.
According to the lawsuit, the men had prayed together frequently in their housing unit following a lock down of their chapel due to COVID-19 measures.
Two complied with the order and moved away from the area. As many as 20 officers gathered at the scene, handcuffing two other prisoners who had stopped praying, pepper-spraying the remaining five, and beating one of those, according to the lawsuit.
Seven of the men ended up in segregation, but did not receive eyes washes, showers, clean clothing or medical evaluations following the pepper spraying.
Prison officials charged the men with “acts of organized disobedience,” a charge later reduced to a minor violation.
Officials transferred some of the men to other prisons without cause and retaliated against others with continuing physical abuse and humiliation after they filed complaints, alleges the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is about holding state officials to account and upholding the rights of all citizens,” said a news release from Kimberly Noe-Lehenbauer, a CAIR civil rights attorney. “Once a person enters a correctional facility, they do not lose their most basic rights and become an open target for violence and abuse.”
The lawsuit is seeking suitable damages by a jury trial, alleging violation of the prisoners’ constitutional rights, including the right to practice their religion freely. In addition, the suit seeks protection from discrimination based on race and from cruel and unusual punishment.
The corrections department did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.