A Missouri prison inmate claims he was restrained for 17 hours without breaks to get a drink of water or use the bathroom.
But videotape that could prove or disprove Darrin Scott Walker's allegations of abuse cannot be found.
And a federal judge this week concluded that prison officials intentionally destroyed the tape “in a manner indicating a desire to suppress the truth.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Dorr made the ruling in a lawsuit Walker filed alleging that he was subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The case is scheduled for trial next month in Springfield.
Prison officials maintain in court documents that Walker voluntarily refused food, water and the chance to go to the bathroom because he "obstinately" refused his assignment to share a cell with another inmate.
Kansas City lawyer Arthur Benson, who is representing Walker, declined to comment on the case or Dorr's ruling.
The Missouri Department of Corrections also does not comment on matters of litigation, a spokeswoman said.
Dorr's ruling came after Benson requested that sanctions be imposed on the state for the upcoming trial.
Dorr granted the request, ordering that jurors be instructed that the videotape's contents would have been "unfavorable" to the Department of Corrections.
In explaining his decision, the judge noted that the lost tape was not a first-time incident.
About 18 months before the 2003 incident involving Walker, a federal appeals court had chastised Missouri prison officials for what it deemed a "disturbing tendency to 'misplace' videotapes of prison incidents."
That ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals mentioned three such incidents before Walker's case.
"We are aware that large bureaucracies cannot have a foolproof system for preserving records," the appeals court said. "However, three missing videotapes in approximately five years of incidents giving rise to litigation within one prison system strikes us as more than mere coincidence."
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