WENATCHEE — Chelan County is facing a class-action lawsuit for its use of solitary confinement for inmates suffering from mental illness.

The lawsuit was filed in June in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington and alleges that staff at the Chelan County Regional Justice Center placed an inmate, Joshua B. Stuller, into solitary confinement for a prolonged period of time, leading to a degradation in his mental health.

It asks for the court to file an injunction against the county to prevent other inmates suffering mental health problems from being placed in solitary confinement, according to the complaint. It also asks for the court to award Stuller damages in an amount to be shown at trial, as well as attorney fees and lawsuit expenses.

Stuller’s attorney, Andrew S. Biviano, said that trial has been set for March 2, 2020, and Chelan County has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit.

Biviano said the judge has been asked to allow the case to go forward as a class-action lawsuit.

Chelan County Administrator Cathy Mulhall said the county does not comment on ongoing litigation. 

The jail does place inmates in solitary confinement when they present a risk to themselves, Interim Jail Director Bill Larson said during a jail tour on Oct. 9.

While on suicide watch inmates are physically checked on every 15 minutes by three staff members, Sgt. Arnold Silva said during the tour. The jail also has a mental health official who monitors the condition of all inmates in solitary confinement.  

One inmate had been in solitary confinement on suicide watch for almost two months awaiting trial at the time of the tour, Silva said.

The jail doesn’t want to keep these individuals, Larson said. It would prefer to transfer them to psychiatric centers with better resources, like Eastern State Hospital. But the limited number of beds at those locations prevent them from doing so.

One guy on suicide watch was deteriorating badly, Larson said. “His food was mashed on the floor, he was covered in feces, laying on the floor. Finally we said he has to go somewhere else to get help. He can’t stay here.”