NEW YORK – An attorney for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman asked a federal judge to intervene over what she described as “cruel and unusual” prison conditions for the drug kingpin who is in custody in a federal prison in New York.
Guzman, once the leader of a murderous drug cartel in Mexico, was convicted in February of running a criminal enterprise and other drug-related charges. He will be sentenced on June 25.
He’s been in US detention for 27 months, and is in solitary confinement in a 10-by-8-foot windowless cell in Manhattan, according to his defense attorney, Mariel Colon.
In the more than two years, he’s not had access to fresh air or natural sunlight while in detention, the attorney wrote in a letter to Judge Brian M. Cogan of the Eastern District of New York.
Lawyer: Guzman is ‘suffering from distress’
The attorney described what she called a series of punishments against the drug lord. The light is always on in his cell, leading to a “serious issue of sleep deprivation” for Guzman, she wrote.
“This deprivation of sunlight and fresh air, over an excessive 27-month period, is causing psychological scarring,” it said. “He … is suffering many symptoms of distress as a result of this lengthy unwarranted punishment.”
In addition to the lack of light, the air conditioning in his cell is so loud, he is unable to sleep through the noise, his attorney said. As a result, Guzman has been using toilet paper as earplugs, and he complains of daily headaches and ear pain that makes it impossible for him to use earphones.
Judge orders the government to respond
The attorney called the conditions a violation of her client’s Eighth Amendment rights and fundamental norms of human decency.
Food and other commissary items are routinely withheld from him “without apparent reason or explanation,” she wrote. Other inmates get bottles of water every week or other week, while Guzman does not. Over the last six months, Guzman has only been allowed 22 small bottles of water, she said.
She asked the judge to order the Bureau of Prisons to grant Guzman access to two hours of outdoor exercise a week, earplugs, the same food and drink offerings as other inmates, and to be allowed to buy six bottles of water a week.
“These types of restrictions have no relation to security concerns and they only serve to punish Mr. Guzman, and further his sense of frustration and isolation,” Colon wrote.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Bureau of Prisons declined to comment when reached by CNN. Shortly after the letter was filed, the judge ordered the government to respond by May 23 and the defendant a week later.
The government has called for Guzman to be placed under restrictive detention conditions to prevent him from running the Sinaloa Cartel from prison, coordinating an escape from prison, or directing attacks on individuals he believes are cooperating with the government, according to the filing.
His attorneys requested a new trial
This is the latest request from the drug lord.
In March, his attorneys asked the judge to call the 18 jurors who found him guilty back for an evidentiary hearing to find out whether there had been juror misconduct during his nearly three-month trial. They also asked for a new trial.
The defense’s request came in the wake of a report that at least five fellow jurors violated the judge’s orders by following the case in the media during the trial. The attorneys brought up their concerns after Vice News published excerpts of an interview with an anonymous juror.
Prosecutors have said they don’t think he should get a new trial, or that jurors should be brought back to court for an evidentiary hearing.