updated 3/11/2006 11:41:08 PM ET 2006-03-12T04:41:08

Four former inmates sued the private company that runs the Citrus County jail, alleging two former officers put human waste in their food and drinks.

The inmates were subject to cruel punishment, torture and battery in 2004, when they were forced to eat the food contaminated with urine and feces, according to the federal lawsuit filed Friday in Tampa.

A spokesman for Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America said the company took action once they heard about the incident at the Citrus County Detention Facility.

“Management immediately investigated and terminated three employees right there and then,” company spokesman Steve Owen said Saturday. “The company does have a zero tolerance policy for conduct of that nature.”

Owen said the company had not been served with the lawsuit, which accuses them of negligent hiring.

The inmates complained their food had a foul odor and didn’t taste right, but were forced to eat the food or go hungry, the lawsuit said. After eating the food, they suffered from “vomiting, stomach cramps and nausea,” the lawsuit claims.

The incidents occurred several times between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2004, according to the lawsuit.

The inmates’ attorney William Grant said a supervisor should have reported the complaints to the jail warden sooner.

Charles Mulligan, a former supervisor employed by Corrections Corporation of America, said one of the corrections officers acknowledged to putting human waste in an inmate’s drinking jug, according to transcripts of a telephone hearing with the Office of Employment Appeals in Tallahassee on Feb. 16, 2005.

Mulligan was fired because he did not report the incident, the jail’s warden, Carlos Melendez, testified at the hearing. Correction officers Kevin Hessler and Alexander Diaz, who are accused of battery in the suit, also were fired.

The Corrections Corporation of America is the sixth largest corrections system in the nation and has about 60,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities around the country, according to their Web site.

The company runs six other facilities in Florida, including Bay County Correctional Facility, Bay County Jail and Hernando County Jail.

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