A judge ruled Thursday that New Jersey corrections officials can force-feed an inmate who has been on a hunger strike since July over a housing dispute and claims of civil rights abuses.
NJ.com reported that state Superior Court Judge Walter Koprowski Jr. determined that the state's interest in preserving life trumps inmate William Lecuyer's rights to free speech and privacy.
Lecuyer's diet has included only water, coffee and occasional meals of broth or protein drinks, and prison doctors say the 37-year-old convict's life is in danger. A Department of Corrections doctor testified that Lecuyer has lost 100 pounds in the last nine months.
The inmate is serving a sentence for armed robberies authorities say he committed to support a heroin addiction.
Lecuyer, who is on his second hunger strike in five years, testified by phone from a cell in Northern State Prison that he's had no choice but to protest in this manner because the state's process for handling inmate grievances is useless.
"We get passed from one administrator to another, from one department to another," he said.
The judge said the state can perform medical examinations and tests that Lecuyer has refused as part of his protest and can feed the inmate intravenously or through a tube inserted through his nose and into his stomach.
NJ.com, an online news site for NJ Advance Media, said the court decision marks the first time in New Jersey history a judge has ruled that corrections officials can force-feed an inmate on a hunger strike over prison conditions.
Lecuyer says he is protesting the four months he spent in administrative segregation for allegedly refusing a drug test and because he says corrections officers lied about the incident and were never punished. He said he also wants to draw attention to the psychological damage isolated confinement has on prisoners.
Deputy Attorney General Nicole Adams argued that the inmate was simply unhappy with his cell assignment and the state would be setting a dangerous precedent by giving in to his demands.
Lecuyer filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last summer, accusing two corrections officers of violating prison policy in 2013 by keeping him waiting too long to take a urine sample. He said by the time they came back he had already relieved himself. He accused the officers of then lying in official statements about the incident to justify his four-month punishment.
The Department of Correction eventually gave him a new hearing if he promised to end a hunger strike he'd been on. His lawyer said Lecuyer was found not guilty of the drug test charges and the officers were not punished.