TACOMA, Wash. — As a result of a settlement with two-public interest groups, the Pierce County Jail is adopting new policies to protect the religious freedom of inmates, but the victims of one inmate who started the lawsuit are outraged.
Left: Larry Tarrer Right: Raymond Garland
The ACLU of Washington and the Public Interest Law Group filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in September 2010 on behalf of inmates at the jail.
In the suit, the ACLU and PILG represented inmates Larry Tarrer and Raymond Garland, practicing Muslims who said they encountered numerous barriers while trying to exercise their religious rights in the jail.
Tarrer was convicted of paralyzing Claudia McCorvey, killing her unborn son, and murdering her best friend, Lavern Simpkins.
The settlement is a result of a lawsuit that challenged what the groups said was jail officials’ failure to accommodate the religious needs of Muslim inmates and their operation of a program that granted extra benefits and services to Christian inmates.
“Persons of all faiths have a constitutional right to practice their religion. This settlement will help ensure fair treatment for Muslim inmates and for inmates of all faiths,” said ACLU-WA staff attorney La Rond Baker.
More on La Rond Baker here.
McCorvey said she doubted that Tarrer was sincere about his religion.
“He wasn’t a religious person when all this happened,” said McCorvey. “You do the crime you do the time, you shouldn’t get special treatment for nothing. Nothing.”
Under the settlement, jail officials agreed to accommodate Muslim inmates’ religious dietary needs, to allow Muslim inmates to exercise their religious rights in conjunction with the jail’s security needs and to train jail staff to respect the religious freedom of inmates.
The sister of victim Lavern Simpkins, Brenda Blockman, said Tarrer should have thought about what jail would be like before he killed her sister.
“He got himself to this place and he’s just going to have to deal with it,” said Blockman.
Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said he doubted the plaintiffs’ sincerity.
“We believe that they manipulated the system to their advantage and are trying to get more perks out of being in jail,” said Troyer.
As part of the settlement, Pierce County paid $200,000 in legal fees and costs.
Key features of the settlement include:
• Dress: Inmates will be allowed to wear kufis (brimless short caps that were previously prohibited) and modify their clothing in certain situations to comply with the dictates of their faith.
• Meals: The jail will make halal meals available to Muslim inmates, comparable to the kosher meals made available to Jewish inmates. During the month of Ramadan, the jail will offer Muslim inmates adequate meals during non-fasting hours.
• Religious Items: Inmates will be permitted to purchase prayer rugs and other previously banned items needed for religious worship from the jail commissary.
• Group Prayer: The jail will provide opportunities for small groups of up to five inmates to congregate for prayer and religious study.
• Preferential Treatment: Future religion-based special programs will be secular and open to all eligible inmates regardless of religion.
• Training: All jail staff will receive annual training on First Amendment and religious freedom issues.
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office Civil Division released the following statement regarding the settlement:
“Pierce County is committed to respecting the religious rights of inmates from all faiths, but not at the cost of inmate and staff security. Pierce County followed federal law before the suit was filed and will continue in its commitment tothe law and religious freedom. At our request, the court denied class action certification. Pierce County did not pay any damages to plaintiffs Larry Tarrer or Raymond Garland and disputed many of their claims. The County agreed to pay a portion of the attorney fees claimed by the ACLU, which avoids the distraction and expense of prolonged litigation and allows our staff to focus on the work they do for the jail and for the public.”
As we noted previously, the jail already abided by sharia law for these killers: Tacoma: Muslim murderers sue jail that already abides by sharia law:
A deputy prosecutor who represents the jail, Craig Adams, disputes the claims. He says the jail offers Muslims meals without pork and allows them to pray together and perform ritual cleansing.
“I was surprised by this lawsuit,” said Adams, the deputy prosecutor. “Their complaints do not seem very well researched.”
County officials consult with clerics and other religious experts to determine the tenets of faiths, he said.
The jail was required to address the religious needs of inmates as part of an agreement settling a 1996 lawsuit.
Jail officials serve Muslim inmates their meals between dusk and dawn during the holy month of Ramadan so they can fast during daylight as their religion requires, he said.
Jail commanders also allowed Tarrer, 37, and Garland, 26, to live in the same unit so they could pray together, Adams said.
Garland recently was sent to state prison to begin serving a 28-year, 10-month sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder, second-degree assault and unlawfully possessing a firearm in a 2004 shooting that left a man dead.
He is expected to return to the jail early next year while he stands trial in an unrelated assault case.
Tarrer was booked into the jail in June 2008 after his 1991 conviction for second-degree murder was overturned on appeal.
He’s currently being retried on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors allege he shot two women, one of them pregnant. One of the victims died and the surviving woman’s baby died after being delivered by Cesarean section.