By Henry Weinstein
Los Angeles Times
Louisiana legislators have asked state officials to investigate charges that prisoners who were evacuated to a rural facility due to Hurricane Katrina are being physically abused by guards. Many of the evacuees had been awaiting trial or were being held on misdemeanor charges.
Pamela LaBorde, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said the department takes the allegations "very seriously" and will send personnel to the prison at Jena in north-central Louisiana today to start an inquiry.
"The inmates who are now being housed at the Jena facility appear to be in severe and immediate danger of being seriously injured or killed by the guards at that facility," said attorney Phyllis Mann, of Alexandria, La., in a statement sent Friday to the Justice Department.
Mann, a leader in the Louisiana Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and four other attorneys said they had sent detailed statements to Justice's civil rights division describing interviews they had conducted with hundreds of inmates in recent days at Jena.
The lawyers said the inmates told of being beaten, subjected to racial invective, having their heads rubbed in mace and vomit and being taunted by guards who told them there was nothing they could do about their treatment because they were living under martial law. A state of emergency -- not martial law -- was declared in Louisiana.