Washington inmate files federal lawsuit over COVID-19; once called ‘king of frivolous claims’

Melissa Luck

POKANE, Wash – A prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla is suing the medical director of the prison, saying not enough is being done to keep prisoners safe from COVID-19.

John Demos, Jr. filed the prisoner civil rights claim in federal court. He is described in another court document as a “prolific litigant,” filing multiple claims against the prison system.

One Seattle Times article from 1991 described him as a “king of frivolous appeals.”

In his most recent claim, he says his 8th Amendment rights are being violated.

Demos claims there is a periodic lack of hot water in the prison, which puts him “at a high risk of contracting COVID-19. Demos says the lack of hot water leads to inmates eating off of unsterilized trays and forces them to take cold showers.

“[Inmates] risk getting sick from taking a cold shower,” he writes. “Once you become sick the body’s immune system weakens, making you more prone to contracting the virus.”

DOC did acknowledge the hot water issue in messages sent to Demos.

Demos also describes a “profound failure to enforce social distancing” putting his life in imminent danger.

He’s demanding a jury trial and asking for $4 million in damages.

Demos attached several exhibits to his claim, including a kite sent to DOC in mid-April. DOC responded, saying staff was required to wear masks and practice social distancing and that “engineers are working on the hot water issue.”

He attached another kite in which he talks about how COVID-19 can be transmitted through sex and asks “could COVID-19 cause some races on our planet to become extinct?”

DOC responded, suggesting that he talk with his primary therapist about it at his next session.

DOC has a page about its response to COVID-19 on its website.

As of Thursday, DOC reported two confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the staff at the Washington State Penitentiary. No inmates there have tested positive. Inmates at several other facilities have tested positive, including 15 at the Monroe Correctional Complex.

DOC has tested 330 inmates in all, with 18 of them testing positive and 20 tests pending. 1,051 inmates are listed as being “in quarantine.”

The claim was just filed in Eastern Washington U.S. District Court Friday; DOC has yet to respond.