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Inmates at Oklahoma jail subjected to 'torture' by hearing 'Baby Shark' on loop, lawsuit says

Inmates were forced into "standing stress positions" while the children's song played loudly on repeat for hours, the lawsuit says.
Oklahoma County Detention Center in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma County Detention Center in Oklahoma City.Google maps

Inmates at a jail in Oklahoma were subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment when they were forced into stress positions while listening to “Baby Shark” on repeat for hours, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The federal civil rights lawsuit also alleged excessive force, describing the discipline tactics as “torture events.”

It was filed on Tuesday in the Western District of Oklahoma on behalf of Ja’Lee Foreman Jr., Daniel Hedrick, Joseph Mitchell and John Basco, who were pre-trial detainees at the Oklahoma County jail in late 2019.

Named as defendants were Oklahoma County Sheriff Tommie Johnson III, the board of county commissioners, the jail trust and two former jail officers.

The defendants failed to adequately train and supervise its officers, the lawsuit said. The jail officers involved had a history of mistreatment well known to supervisors, but no actions were taken to stop them, the lawsuit said.

Mitchell, according to the lawsuit, on Nov. 30, 2019, was pulled from his cell by jail officers at about 11:45 p.m. The officers then placed Mitchell into a room where he was forced into a “standing stress position” for three to four hours while handcuffed behind his back.

The officers then played "Baby Shark" on loop, per the court filing.

“Mitchell was forced to listen to the song over and over while physically restrained in the attorney visitation room. The volume of the song was so loud that it was reverberating down the hallways,” the lawsuit said.

Basco and Hedrick also were forced to stand in a stress positions while listening to the song at different times in late 2019, the suit said. Foreman was not forced to listen to the song, but was placed in a stress position and later was kneed in the back and slammed into a wall by one officer and spat on by another, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said the plaintiffs posed no threats to officers.

Attempts to reach most defendants named in the lawsuit were unsuccessful late Friday afternoon. Johnson declined comment.

A lawyer who is representing the plaintiffs also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Oct. 2020, two former jail employees and their supervisor were charged with misdemeanor cruelty charges when prosecutors found the practice occurred at the jail in late 2019.

“It was unfortunate that I could not find a felony statute to fit this scenario,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. “I would have preferred filing a felony on this behavior.”

Then Sheriff P.D. Taylor said the jail officers who were charged resigned and their supervisor retired.

The lawsuit quoted Prater addressing the use of "Baby Shark" being played on repeat. Prater said the song being used against the inmates was “cruel and inhumane,” and that it put “undue emotional stress on the inmates who were most likely already suffering," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cited clinical psychologist John Mayer, who said, “The music can be hard on the ears.”

“Certain pitches hit the auditory receptors in ways that are physiologically painful," Mayer said, according to the lawsuit. "These are high-pitched tones and screechy elongated sounds, like nails across a blackboard.”

"Baby Shark," the children’s nursery song, exploded in popularity in 2019.

That year, it entered the Billboard chart at No. 32 for the week of Jan. 12. The song’s streaming growth was credited for its landing at the spot, Billboard said.

The song’s “origins date back decades, is a participatory children's song/nursery rhyme in which singers act out each verse with their hands and arms, from the eponymous youngest member of a family to the parents and grandparents," Billboard said.