ACLU of Southern California, Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center, and Winston & Strawn filed an application for a temporary restraining order against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of an inmate with a mobility impairment, who needs a wheelchair, but is being punished by the Sheriff’s Department for refusing an order from the Sheriff’s Department to give it up.
Terry Alexander is a class member in the class action lawsuit Johnson v. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which was filed in 2008 against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County and Sheriff Baca on behalf of inmates with mobility impairments.
The plaintiffs argue that the jails are not wheelchair accessible, and that inmates are denied mobility devices such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers or canes, even though they need them.  Inmates with mobility impairments also suffer discrimination because they are denied access to jail programs and services, including those that may reduce time served.  The inmates are also placed in cells that are not wheelchair accessible, which means that men have fallen because there are no grab bars to help transfer them to the toilet, and some of them are denied equal access to shower facilities.  This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, California and federal statutes, and the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
“We need the court to step in immediately to protect Mr. Alexander, who is in “the hole” for refusing to give up the wheelchair that is absolutely essential to his basic functioning,” said Jessica Price, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “Doctors in the jail have decided that Mr. Alexander needs a wheelchair, and now the deputies are punishing him for failing to get out of his wheelchair.”
“This is among the worst disability discrimination that we’ve seen in a long time,” says Shawna Parks, Legal Director for the Disability Rights Legal Center. “To not only deny a necessary accommodation, but also discipline someone for disputing that denial, flies in the face of every disability nondiscrimination statute on the books.”
Mr. Alexander has a history of paraplegia. He has needed a wheelchair since 2003 after a number of his spinal discs were crushed by a forklift at his job.  In 2010 he was arrested.  He has had multiple doctors determine that he needs a wheelchair. Deputies put him in “the hole” – solitary confinement in disciplinary housing that is physically inaccessible with no accommodations for persons with disabilities --  on April 14, 2011 for failing to get out of the wheelchair.  While in “the hole” Mr. Alexander has fallen because there are no grab bars and he has difficulty transferring to the toilet.  He is also barred from using the telephone and therefore is unable to call his mother who had a stroke last year.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the defendants not to punish Alexander until he can have an independent medical exam to determine the medical necessity of his wheelchair.