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Accountability Demanded for August Tear Gassing Inside Jail

press conference
People incarcerated at the Richmond City Jail allege that tear gas was used on them in retaliation for questioning officers about a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility. They're being represented in a class-action lawsuit. (Photo: Whittney Evans/VPM News)

People incarcerated at the Richmond City Jail say they were indiscriminately tear gassed this summer by corrections officers for demanding answers about the jail’s COVID-19 outbreak, in which more than 100 people tested positive for the virus. Now attorneys say they plan to file a federal class-action lawsuit against the jail.

The Commonwealth Law Group says it’s suing on behalf of incarcerated people at the Richmond City Justice Center who were involved in the August 29 incident. Attorneys say the lawsuit will be filed in Federal District Court in Richmond. 

“The inmates asked correctional officers for more testing, for better quarantining and most of all they wanted to be informed about what was being done about coronavirus here, at this facility,” said  Connor Bleakley, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

Bleakley says they weren’t given answers to their questions.

“And when guards told them to go back in their cells, certain inmates refused,” Bleakley said. “A few individuals decided to exercise their rights of civil disobedience and remain outside of their cells.”

The officers allegedly responded to the protest by dressing in riot gear and tear-gassing a section of the jail, including people already in their cells who were not involved in the protest. 

After the gassing, the group says RCJC staff cut off the water and ventilation in that section. Some of the plaintiffs said they were denied medical care, and placed in solitary confinement naked.  

“The feeling of being helpless and not being able to control your breathing is terrifying,” said Theron Moseley, who described the tear gassing in a press release. “That pain was so unbearable at times that I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. All we kept yelling was for somebody to help us. Guys were throwing up."

VPM reached out to Richmond Sheriff Antionette Irving and Sheriff’s office spokesperson, Major Stacy Bagby, for confirmation of the August incident and for further comment and has not received a response. 

Mayor Levar Stoney’s office also did not respond to a request for comment. 

This article was updated after a 4 p.m. press conference.