Often shackled and held in isolation in a county jail, forced to wear the “keep away” red uniform that connotes an informant or baby killer, Susan McDougal has been subject to “abusive and inhuman” treatment by special prosecutors intent on seeing her testify in the Whitewater investigation, her lawyers and family charged Monday.
A lawsuit filed Monday on McDougal’s behalf in U.S. District Court accused prison officials of punishing her at the behest of Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr, who wants her to testify before a grand jury. To that end, McDougal’s lawyers said, she is being held under harsh conditions in a county jail despite a court order that she be sent to a federal facility.
“Obviously, what is going on here is an attempt to break her spirit in hopes of resuscitating a desperate and flailing investigation,” said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, which helped file the lawsuit.
McDougal was convicted of fraud in the failed Whitewater real estate venture in which President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton were partners. She was sentenced to two years in a minimum-security prison and has been in a Los Angeles County jail since
December on contempt charges stemming from her refusal to cooperate with Starr’s investigation - time that does not count toward her federal fraud sentence.
“Will she continue to hold out?” asked McDougal’s fiance, attorney Pat Harris. “As someone who has been with Susan 12 years, I can promise you she’ll be the last person standing.”
In a prepared statement, Starr called the ACLU’s claim that he is responsible for McDougal’s jail conditions “completely false.” He added that McDougal will be released from civil contempt charges when she obeys a federal court order requiring her to testify before the Whitewater grand jury.
According to McDougal’s lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Marshal for the central district of California, county officials have admitted to McDougal’s lawyers that they could not send her to a federal prison without “getting sideways with the feds,” and that “the feds don’t want her.”
McDougal was transferred to Los Angeles from a federal prison in Texas to face unrelated charges of embezzling more than $150,000 from conductor Zubin Mehta and his wife, Nancy.
Special prosecutors, McDougal’s lawyers alleged Monday, have indicated that those charges would “disappear” if she cooperates with Starr.
“Only one explanation makes sense,” said David Schwartz, ACLU senior staff counsel. “The Whitewater special prosecutor wants her there.”
According to the ACLU, a state court judge released McDougal to federal authorities six months ago. But despite attempts by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, federal officials from both the U.S. Marshal Service and the Bureau of Prisons refuse to take her.
The conditions that McDougal has faced as a result allegedly include: being held in isolation almost round the clock during her first week at Sybil Brand Institute for Women; being refused a Bible, or a chance to visit with a chaplain; being shackled during visits with her attorney; being classified as “K-10” or “keep-away” status; and being denied underwear and bedding upon arrival at Twin Towers correction facility, where she is now being held.
“This is not a little rich girl who is complaining about prison amenities,” said one of McDougal’s brothers, a Houston social studies teacher named Jim Henley. “This is aobut basic human dignity.”