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Bare-naked humiliation


Bernard Gilligan
  • Bernard Gilligan

Here is a mug shot of Bernard Gilligan, who is currently being held at El Paso County's Metro Detention facility in downtown Colorado Springs.

Unfortunately, we don't have a photograph of Mr. Gilligan as he appeared in an isolation cell shortly after he was put there for allegedly initiating what the sheriff's office called a "loud disturbance" in the jail on June 29.

If we could show you the picture, this is what you'd see: Gilligan, naked, in a small concrete slab cell, with no toilet, no sink or soap, no mattress, no pillow. The floor has a grate-covered hole, where Gilligan has been instructed to go to the bathroom. When he has a bowel movement, he's been ordered by guards to push his feces through the grate, with toilet paper, with his hands. At mealtime, he is given a food loaf, sometimes called "Nutraloaf," a mysterious square, compressed food product that looks so disgusting that he refuses to eat it.

This is what Gilligan's attorney, Deborah Grohs, saw, on June 30, when she went to visit her client. Jail guards told Grohs that they would not bring Gilligan to an attorney/client visiting room to meet with her; instead she would have to go to him. So the guards took her to, as she describes it, "as far as you could get at the back of the jail, as far away as possible where no one could see him." She was walked past a long row of cells on both sides, subjected to the yelling and hollering of other inmates hoping to get her attention.

Her client's cell was divided in two, separated by bars. A guard placed a chair on one side. On the other, Gilligan politely covered up his nakedness as best he could with the sole item in his cell, a blanket. Amid the din of continuous hollering by other inmates, and without any privacy, the attorney and her client were reduced to whispering to each other through the cell bars. The light was so dim that Grohs could not read the paperwork she had brought; a guard eventually gave her a flashlight to read by.

Grohs has been practicing law for nearly two decades; her feathers are not easily ruffled going into a jail and being subjected to catcalls. But she was mortified by the unsanitary conditions. And she was angered that she was denied the ability to communicate privately with her client.

As she puts it, this scenario is just so wrong, on so many levels.

"The thing that was the most offensive was [he was told] to shit through the grate and then push it through the grate," Grohs said. "It was the inhumanity of the situation -- is this OK with the Health Department, that he be required to push his poop through a grate?"

Afterward, Ms. Grohs complained to Lt. Paul Billiard, who runs the Metro jail facility, and who told her that Gilligan had been placed in the isolation cell to "get his attention."

"I asked him how long Bernard was going to be in this situation, and he said it depended on his behavior," Grohs said. When she inquired about the unsanitary conditions, Billiard told her that, had Gilligan asked for them, the jailers would have given him rubber gloves. "It's just ridiculous; it's disgusting," she said.

The attorney subsequently filed a motion asking the court to require jailers to, in the future, allow Grohs to meet with her client in a private area to ensure attorney-client confidentiality. As a result, mediation has been ordered.

But Grohs is not the only attorney who is concerned about the jail providing private areas where lawyers can meet with their clients. Public defender Mike McHenry also recently was required to interview a naked client in an isolation cell with a hole in the floor. He reports that attorney-client privacy at the county's other jail, the Criminal Justice Center, is no better. "[Is this] completely and utterly inhumane?" McHenry asked. "Yes."

We Americans sure got mad when we saw the horrific photographs of how naked prisoners were being treated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But that wasn't our county jail; that was a prison in a land far, far away.


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