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Two men sue Pierce County, claiming jail discriminates against Muslims

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on Sep. 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
September 22, 2010 4:13 pm

Two followers of Islam are suing Pierce County, claiming Muslims are unable to practice their religion appropriately while incarcerated in the county jail.

An attorney for the county called the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on Monday misguided.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Interest Law Group filed the lawsuit on behalf of Larry Edward Tarrer and Raymond Wesley Garland.

Tarrer and Garland claim jail officials burden Muslims by:

• Forbidding them to participate in group prayer.

• Refusing to accommodate their dietary restrictions by, among other things, offering no halal meats during meals.

• Prohibiting certain religious clothing and other items “integral to Islamic faith and worship.”

The men also complain incarcerated Christians receive preferential treatment, including a separate living unit known informally as the “God pod.”

“Throughout their incarcerations at the jail, plaintiffs have experienced various forms of religious discrimination, harassment and interference with their ability to practice Islam,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also names the Sheriff’s Department, which runs the jail, and eight jail officials, including chief of corrections Martha Karr.

The men seek unspecified damages and an injunction to halt the alleged discriminatory practices.

They also seek to have the lawsuit declared a class action to protect “all Muslim men incarcerated, now or in the future, at the Pierce County Jail.”

Deputy prosecutor Craig Adams, who represents the jail, said Wednesday county officials work diligently to accommodate the religious needs of all inmates.

 “I was surprised by this lawsuit,” Adams said. “Their complaints do not seem very well researched.”

Muslim inmates are offered meals that contain no pork, given towels on which to say their prayers and afforded access to lavatories to perform ritual cleansings before praying, he said.

Jail officials serve Muslim inmates their meals between dusk and dawn during the holy month of Ramadan so they can fast during daylight hours as their religion requires, Adams said.

Jail officials also allowed Tarrer, 37, and Garland, 26, to live in the same unit so they could pray together, he said.

Garland recently was shipped off to state prison to begin serving a 28 year, 10 month sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder, second-degree assault and unlawfully possessing a firearm.

He is expected to return to the jail early next year to while he stands trial in an unrelated assault case.

Tarrer was booked into the jail in June 2008 after his 1991 conviction for second-degree murder was overturned on appeal. He’s currently being retried on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter.

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