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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

N.J. Muslim Sues Over Discrimination In Prison

A New Jersey man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing workers at a U.S. prison in Illinois of mistreating him and other Muslims after the 2001 terrorist attacks, at one time defiling his holy book and torturing him with a nightstick when he complained.

Guards allegedly placed Hakeem Shaheed's Quran on a spit-stained floor, then assaulted him with a baton in 2005 when he reported that and other alleged abuses to Justice Department investigators, according to the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

Shaheed, 48, was transferred by wheelchair the next day to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where he lived in the "highly secure environment" of death row to protect him from additional abuse. He was released last year from federal custody, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Web site, and now lives in Atlantic City, N.J.

The five-count lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for alleged abuses that "were done because the plaintiff was a Muslim and because he had complained about the mistreatment of Muslim prisoners on account of their religion."

The complaint does not detail the abuses targeting other Muslim prisoners.

A Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman declined comment Tuesday because the litigation was pending.

Two of the lawsuit's defendants, former warden Randy Davis and his one-time deputy, Russell Rau, have retired, a worker at the prison said Tuesday. Messages left at Davis' home were not immediately returned. There was no home telephone listing for Rau in the Marion area.

A message also was left Tuesday with fellow defendant Michael Nalley, the regional chief of the Bureau of Prisons' North Central Region based in Kansas City, Kan. The lawsuit's other defendants were prison staffers listed only by their last names, along with nine "Officers John Doe."

Shaheed was a practicing Muslim imprisoned at the Marion lockup in southern Illinois from April 1996 to early October 2005, according to the lawsuit. Specifics about his convictions were not immediately available Tuesday.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Muslims at the prison "suffered much mistreatment by guards and employees at the prison," Shaheed alleged.

Shaheed reported some of mistreatment to various authorities, including agents with the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General in May 2005, then again three months later, the lawsuit claims.

The next month a prison lieutenant allegedly "intentionally humiliated him by putting his hands on Shaheed's head and squeezing the inmate's kufi" -- his religious knitted hat -- "in an obvious attempt to insult plaintiff's religion."

Shaheed reported that to prison and federal officials in October 2005, then found "various Marion prison guards and employees determined to torture and otherwise physically and mentally abuse" him.

Despite his screams, the lawsuit alleges, prison workers identified only as "John Does" pressed the assault, grinding the baton into his spine and at one point pressing it into his pants. Assailants also twisted Shaheed's toes and put a chain over one of them, then "yanked it extremely hard," according to the lawsuit.

"You don't want to mess with these rednecks around here, they'll kill you," the lawsuit quoted one of the guards as saying. [Link]

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