Lawsuit claims guard targeted Muslim inmates with pepper spray in Sterling

STERLING, Colo. -- A lawsuit filed Monday accuses guards at the Sterling Correctional Facility of harassing Muslim inmates because of their religion and assaulting a Muslim inmate who filed a complaint.

The lawsuit claims one of the guards, Ethan Kellogg, sprayed a “full blast of pepper spray” into a small room that was about to be used by Muslim inmates for a prayer service.

According to attorney David Lane, when the Muslim inmates entered the room, Kellogg shut the door and the inmates immediately began to suffer from the gas.

The lawsuit states the inmates “felt a searing sensation in their noses, throats, eyes, and all over their exposed skin.”

Lane stated they were able to leave the room and when they did, they saw the guard smirking and laughing.

“There is no provocation for a guard unleashing a dose of pepper spray on a group of intimates who are only going to pray,” Lane said.

The lawsuit states one of the inmates, Donell Blount, filed a grievance and was threatened with being put into solitary confinement if he retained a lawyer, according to Lane.

The guard who allegedly threatened Blount was identified as David Scherbarth.

According to the lawsuit, Scherbarth told Blount, “We’re gonna have your *** in the hole,” and “They gonna ******* torture you.”

Lane said another guard, identified only as Quinlan, punched Blount several times in the back while Blount was handcuffed, “resulting in internal bleeding as evidenced by blood in his urine.”

The lawsuit claims the guards violated the inmate’s constitutional right to exercise freedom of religion and engage in protected speech, as well as his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be protected from excessive force.

According to the lawsuit, the inmates never had the opportunity to participate in the scheduled prayer service.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, economic and punitive damages to be established at trial, and reimbursement for attorney fees and costs.

The lawsuit also seeks a formal written apology from each of the guards.

“These three inmates are serving sentences. They are being held accountable for their misconduct in society. I want to see these guards held accountable for their misconduct in society,” Lane said.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, general counsel to the e Colorado Muslim Society called on the Department of Corrections to immediately come out and condemn these actions.

“When any religion is targeted by hate, then it is an attack on all Americans and we should stand up and protect the rights of all folks who want to engage in religious practices,” Mohamedbhai said.

A spokesman for the Colorado Department of Corrections said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.