Rockingham Sheriff Faces Lawsuit Alleging Jail Served Hindu Inmate Beef, Refusing Special Diet
Written by: Sam Orlando
Rockingham County, VA - A federal lawsuit was filed this week against the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson, and several other defendants for alleged violations of civil rights. The lawsuit, filed under Civil Action No. 723CVS82, cites multiple infringements, particularly concerning the religious freedom of inmate Tarun Kumar Vyas and others similarly situated.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants have violated various state and federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the equal protection clause of the 15th Amendment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). According to the filed complaint, Vyas, who identifies as Hindu, has been denied dietary accommodations in line with his religious beliefs while incarcerated at the Rockingham Harrisonburg Regional Jail.
Vyas states that while Jewish inmates are given kosher meals and Muslim inmates receive pork-free and Ramadan-conforming diets, his requests for Hindu-conforming meals have been ignored or denied. Such discrimination, Vyas claims, violates his First and 14th Amendment rights and places an unreasonable burden on his religious practice.
Compounding the issue is Vyas' medical condition: he is an insulin-dependent type-2 diabetic. The lack of appropriate meals forces him into a difficult choice between practicing his religion and managing his medical needs.
The lawsuit includes multiple claims like violation of religious freedom, common law claims for fraud, negligence, professional liability, premises liability, and vicarious liability. It also alleges violations of equal protection and constitutional rights.
Vyas' legal action relies on a series of established court decisions and statutes that support the right to monetary damages for constitutional violations. Notably, the lawsuit states that the jail's inmate handbook lacks any section dedicated to religious or medical diets, raising questions about institutional practices.
Sheriff Hutcheson responded to our request for comment, but citing pending litigation, was unable to speak to the lawsuit or its allegations. Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Sheriff and each defendant will be required to file a written answer to the complaint, or some sort of motion related to the sufficiency of the complaint. Breaking Through will bring you updates to this story as the Sheriff's response is filed.
A Matter of Equality
This case highlights issues not just of religious accommodation but also the broader question of equal treatment within the penal system. It brings under scrutiny how correctional facilities across the nation might be falling short in respecting inmates' civil rights, particularly their right to religious freedom.
The lawsuit also raises legitimate questions of just how much accommodation a jail or prison is required to make.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and, if successful, could pave the way for reform in the treatment of inmates' religious and medical needs not only in Rockingham County but also nationwide.
For more information on this case, you can read Mr. Vyas' complaint here, or refer to the court US District Court docket, filed as Case 7:23-cv-00582-EKD-JCH.