Watch CBS News

R. Kelly suing prison after lawyers say he was placed on suicide watch as a form of punishment

R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison
R. Kelly sentenced to 30 years in prison on federal sex trafficking charges 03:40

Days after R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years on federal sex trafficking charges, lawyers for the singer are suing the federal prison housing him, alleging that the facility is unlawfully keeping him on suicide watch as a form of punishment. The lawyers allege that there is no reason for Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center to put the 55-year-old Kelly on suicide watch, and that doing so is causing "real and lasting harm" to the singer. 

Court documents allege that both before and after the sentencing, the singer was mentally stable and showed no signs of behavior that would justify placing him on suicide watch.

"Mr. Kelly impressed upon me repeatedly that he was not suicidal and the conditions of suicide watch at the MDC were extraordinarily stressful and harmful," his lawyer wrote in an accompanying affidavit. "He expressed on multiple occasions that he did not want to be put on suicide watch and that he was not suicidal and had no thoughts of harming himself or anyone else." 

To ensure he wouldn't be sent to suicide watch, Kelly's lawyers told him to email them as soon as he returned to the cell after his sentencing, the documents said. When they didn't receive an email, the lawyers said, they repeatedly tried contacting the prison — but were not able to get an update on Kelly's location until two days later, when a prosecutor confirmed he had been placed on suicide watch. 

The prosecutor allegedly told Kelly's legal team that MDC's legal team said he had been moved "for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity, and sentencing."

"This explanation suggests that the reasons for placing Mr. Kelly on suicide watch have nothing to do with him as an individual or even whether he actually is a suicide risk," the lawsuit said. 

R. Kelly appears during a hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on Sept. 17, 2019, in Chicago. Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The lawsuit alleged Kelly was put under suicide watch for "purely punitive reasons." It further alleged that MDC facilities have "a policy of placing high profile individuals under the harsh conditions of suicide watch whether they are suicidal or not," noting that Ghislaine Maxwell's legal team recently made similar allegations.  

While the lawyers noted that suicide watch may be appropriate for those who are suicidal, it said the conditions are cruel and unconstitutional for people who are not a suicide risk. The documents note that while on suicide watch, inmates are forced to wear "a smock made of material that is akin to the material that moving companies use when wrapping furniture," cannot shower or shave, are forced to eat with their hands and are not allowed access to family or other support systems. 

"Mr. Kelly is currently being confined illegally, in violation of his Eighth Amendment guarantees, under the harsh conditions of suicide watch for no reason other than his status as a high-profile inmate," the documents said. "The conditions under which he is currently being confined are causing real and lasting harm to Mr. Kelly."  

The Metropolitan Department of Corrections directed CBS News to the Federal Bureau of Prisons when reached for comment. The Bureau declined to comment on the case or provide information on Kelly's location, citing safety and security reasons, but provided a link to its policy for placing inmates on suicide watch. 

"The BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public," the Bureau told CBS News. "Humane treatment of the men and women in our custody is a top priority." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.