OPP guard sues over 'toxic mold' he claims caused illness

August 10, 2015

from NOLA.com

By Naomi Martin, NOLA.com, July 15, 2014 at 6:57 PM, updated July 15, 2014 at 7:34 PM

A guard at Orleans Parish Prison is suing the city and Sheriff Marlin Gusman over mold he says gave him health problems.

Deputy Donald Marshall Jr. claims that he suffers symptoms like coughing, trouble breathing and allergic hypersensitivity due to the "toxic mold" his lawsuit says exists in the jail's buildings and the Orleans Parish Criminal District Courthouse since Hurricane Katrina.

Gusman never provided protective gear to deputies or inmates exposed to mold, even as outside contractors wore breathing masks when they worked in the same areas of the courthouse basement where prisoners awaited court, Marshall claims in a lawsuit filed Friday (July 11) in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.

Gusman's office has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit, and a spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit makes claims that go beyond the deputy's own health problems. Gusman's staff, the suit says, "actively concealed environmental hazards from government" inspectors by painting over the mold and bleaching it. Failing to properly combat the mold created workplace safety hazards that amounted to "willful, reckless and flagrant misconduct" in violation of the federal consent decree mandating changes at the troubled lock-up, the suit says.

Susan McCampbell, a corrections expert appointed by a federal judge to monitor the OPP consent decree, testified Monday that she saw a "considerable amount of mold on the ceilings" and on the walls of the jail's Templeman V building during a recent unannounced visit.

In March, McCampbell described an announced visit to the jail. "It's like when your mother-in-law comes to visit -- there's a lot of cleaning right before we get there. You can tell by the smell of bleach." 

Marshall's attorney, Brian Glorioso of Slidell, said in a news release he plans to seek class-action status. At the time of filing, the only plaintiff was Marshall.

Glorioso is asking current and former inmates and guards, along with attorneys and others who may have been exposed to mold, to seek medical attention if they have symptoms such as respiratory or nasal problems.

Marshall has worked for the Sheriff's Office since 2006, with a break from 2008 to 2010. He seeks unspecified damages.

In addition to Gusman and the city, the suit also names as defendants two unidentified contractors, as well as the Law Enforcement District, Gusman's taxing authority, and OPP wardens Kevin Winfield, Jerrod Spinney, Russell Rhodes and Carlos Louque.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's spokesman declined to comment.

The attorney says he plans to report the mold to state and federal health officials, the U.S. Department of Justice and Gov. Bobby Jindal's office.

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