Okla. inmates sue for damages after being forced to listen to 'Baby Shark' kids' song on loop
Their attorneys described the discipline tactics as "torture events"
By Nolan Clay
OKLAHOMA CITY — Three former inmates are suing for actual and punitive damages two years after being forced to listen to "Baby Shark" over and over at high volumes in the Oklahoma County jail.
Their attorneys described the discipline tactics as "torture events."
Daniel Hedrick, Joseph "Joey" Mitchell and John Basco filed the civil rights lawsuit Monday in Oklahoma City federal court.
They are suing Oklahoma County commissioners, Sheriff Tommie Johnson III, the jail trust and two former jailers.
A criminal investigation last year determined at least four inmates were subjected to the discipline in an attorney visitation room of the jail in November and December 2019.
The inmates were forced to listen to the popular children's song on a continuous loop for extended periods of time, the investigation found. The inmates had to stand the entire time with their hands cuffed behind them and secured to a wall.
Two former detention officers and their supervisor were charged with misdemeanor counts of cruelty to a prisoner and conspiracy as a result of the investigation. A jury trial in the criminal case is set for February.
The civil case could result in higher taxes for property owners in Oklahoma County if the former inmates win their lawsuit or county commissioners agree to settle.
An attorney for the former inmates urged county commissioners earlier this year to fully fund the jail and to pay settlements to the "victims of the atrocities that have occurred inside."
Otherwise, attorney Cameron Spradling warned, a judgment will come in federal court that will be too large for county commissioners to continue to ignore the jail's needs.
One former inmate, Mitchell, was left in the "standing stress position" in the attorney visitation room for as long as three to four hours, according to the lawsuit. "The volume of the song was so loud that it was reverberating down the hallways."
In the lawsuit, attorneys called repeatedly playing "Baby Shark" a known device to torment. They pointed out that a Florida city, West Palm Beach, blasted the children's song outside an event center in 2019 in an effort to keep the homeless from sleeping there at night.
They also noted that American interrogators have blasted heavy metal music as an "enhanced interrogation" technique on captives at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay,
Joining in the lawsuit was another former inmate, Ja'Lee Foreman Jr.
His attorney, Spradling, told county commissioners last year that the two former detention officers planned to torture him, too, with "Baby Shark." The attorney claimed they abandoned that plan because of a disturbance on another floor.
Foreman was left on a bench for more than 90 minutes with his hands cuffed behind him to a bar in November 2019, according to the lawsuit. One officer drove a knee into his back when he was returned to his cell, slamming him into the wall. The officer then spit in his face.
Not joining the lawsuit was a fourth former jail inmate identified during the investigation as a victim of the "Baby Shark" discipline in November 2019. Brandon Newell was convicted of first-degree murder a month later and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
At the time of the incidents, Sheriff P.D. Taylor was in charge of jail operations. A trust took over the jail July 1, 2020, and Taylor left office after losing reelection.
Taylor said last year that the two detention officers were suspended from any contact with inmates "as soon as I knew about it." He said they resigned during the investigation. He said their supervisor, a lieutenant, retired.
"We don't tolerate it," Taylor said of the mistreatment.
The current sheriff, Johnson, was sued in his official capacity. Attorneys explained in the lawsuit that procedurally is the same as suing the county.
Attorneys told The Oklahoman the trust was sued as a kind of legal safeguard.
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