Before two Uintah County jail inmates could join a work crew, they had to "ride the lightning," according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.
That meant grabbing hold of hooks fastened to a car battery and absorbing the electrical shock to amuse the jailers, the lawsuit alleges. The two former inmates are suing the jail, two guards and the state of Utah because one of the inmates was a state prisoner.
Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said Friday he had never heard about any of his jail inmates being shocked with car batteries. But he said he had spoken with the county attorney and the Department of Corrections and was ordering an independent investigation into the allegations.
Merrell said one of the officers named in the lawsuit still works for Uintah County, but the other took employment elsewhere. He added that he couldn't recall receiving complaints about either of them.
Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke declined to comment, citing a policy of not speaking about pending litigation.
Plantiffs Qaiyim Hill, 26, and Richard Anthony Uribe, 31, filed the lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City. Hill arrived at the Utah State Prison Aug. 21, 2008, and was transferred to the Uintah County jail in September 2010, according to the suit. Uribe was an inmate at the jail from July, 2010 to April 2011.
Three days after his arrival, Hill was placed on a work crew with five other inmates.
Two corrections officers were assigned to supervise the work crew.
The lawsuit alleges the officers advised the six inmates that before work could begin, the inmates would have to pass the initiation referred to as "riding the lightning."
The lawsuit says inmates would have to grab a metal hook in each hand. The hooks were fashioned to look like horns and attached to what appeared to be a car battery.
The shock caused Hill to have a seizure, causing him to fall to the pavement, unable to control his body, according to the lawsuit. Hill was later transferred to the Box Elder County jail and had a second seizure there he believes was a result of the shock.
Uribe, in the complaint, also says he suffered pain from the shock, though the complaint does not specify any lasting injury. The plaintiffs said they watched other inmates get shocked, too. Uribe and Hill allege the exercise was for the officers' amusement or enjoyment.
Uribe and Hill say the shocks violated their rights, including rights against excessive force and cruel and unusual punishment. The complaint does not specify a dollar amount sought.
Hill went to prison after pleading no contest to theft by receiving stolen property in state court in Cedar City. Uribe has felony convictions in Utah for drug offenses. Prison and court records indicate both men are not currently incarcerated.