Lawsuit alleges Clark County Jail failed to provide inmate gluten-free diet


Man with Celiac Disease filed lawsuit after losing more than 10 percent of his body weight in three weeks

VANCOUVER – A man with Celiac Disease who was held in the Clark County Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Clark County, the Clark County Jail and NaphCare, Inc. The lawsuit claims that while an inmate, Gaven Picciano was left without safe access to food.

The suit alleges that the Clark County Jail denied Picciano’s repeated requests for gluten-free food and the result was that he lost more than 10 percent of his body weight in three weeks. The suit includes claims of disability discrimination, constitutional violations, and state law claims. 

A man with Celiac Disease who was held in the Clark County Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Clark County, the Clark County Jail and NaphCare, Inc. Photo by Mike Schultz
A man with Celiac Disease who was held in the Clark County Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Clark County, the Clark County Jail and NaphCare, Inc. Photo by Mike Schultz

In January, Picciano was experiencing depression and police were called over concern that he was suicidal. He was booked and held at the Clark County Jail for approximately 22 days. Picciano has Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease that requires a strict gluten-free diet and affects about 1 percent of the population. Celiac Disease has no cure. The only treatment is strict avoidance of gluten. Picciano, described in the lawsuit as a 26-year-old Native American male, now lives on a reservation in Michigan. At the time of his incarceration, he was a resident of Vancouver.

A man with Celiac Disease who was held in the Clark County Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Clark County, the Clark County Jail and NaphCare, Inc. The lawsuit claims that while an inmate, Gaven Picciano was left without safe access to food.
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A letter issued Wednesday by his attorneys stated that although Picciano notified jail officials that he has Celiac Disease, requested a gluten-free diet and signed off on release of his medical records to prove it, the jail initially refused to provide a safe diet, instead telling Picciano to trade his meals to other people in detention for bananas. 

The letter claimed that Picciano became extremely ill and malnourished to the point that he lost consciousness and was not responding to painful stimuli by emergency responders. Even after Picciano was approved for a gluten-free diet, the lawsuit states that he was served food containing gluten further exacerbating his symptoms. Picciano reportedly continues to suffer from his treatment, although he has been released. 

On Thursday, Clark County Chief Civil Deputy Emily Sheldrick told Clark County Today, “I do not believe the County has been served with this complaint as of today’s date,’’ Sheldrick wrote in an email. “However, the County will be evaluating the case and defending itself in litigation.  Because this is pending litigation, I cannot comment on the specific allegations.’’

Stein & Vargas, LLP and the Washington Civil & Disability Advocate represent Picciano. 

“Defendants treated Mr. Picciano in a way that no civilized society should accept,” said Mary Vargas of Stein & Vargas, LLP. “For a jail to have a policy that by design means people with medical diagnoses requiring special diets do not eat for days or weeks is both unacceptable and unlawful,” she added.

Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights firm based in Washington, D.C. and committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society. Washington Civil & Disability Advocate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit disability rights law firm based in Seattle, Washington and is committed to advocating for civil rights with an emphasis on advancing the rights of persons with disabilities and ensuring accessibility for all. 

A man with Celiac Disease who was held in the Clark County Jail earlier this year has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Clark County, the Clark County Jail and NaphCare, Inc. The lawsuit claims that while an inmate, Gaven Picciano was left without safe access to food.
Click to view PDF

According to the lawsuit, NaphCare, Inc. is a company headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, that provides medical care in correctional facilities throughout the United States, including at the Clark County Jail. The suit claims NaphCare, Inc. prides itself on providing “cost-effective” services to the prison industry and that NaphCare, Inc. has been repeatedly sued for discrimination and injuries.

The lawsuit asks for Picciano to be awarded compensatory damages, including economic and noneconomic damages, damages for pain, suffering, humiliation, terror, as well as punitive damages against the non-municipal defendants to the extent authorized by law in an amount to be proven at trial.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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