'El Chapo' to remain in solitary confinement, US judge rules

"El Chapo" Guzman is escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines at a navy hanger in Mexico City.

Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman returned to a Brooklyn courtroom as his lawyer fights to relieve restrictive jail conditions.

"The Court would be hard pressed not to acknowledge that defendant's widely-publicized second escape from a Mexican maximum-security facility was accomplished under 24-hour video surveillance in solitary confinement", Cogan wrote in Thursday's ruling.

Guzman's request that he be put into the general prisoner population was denied.

As Guzman, 59, entered a packed courtroom Friday, he nodded toward his wife, a former beauty queen who smiled and waved to him from her seat among spectators. But Cogan relaxed the restrictions known as Special Administrative Measures enough for Guzman to communicate with his wife through written questions and answers.

Cogan said he would send a magistrate judge to look at the room where Guzman meets with his lawyers and make recommendations about how the problem could be overcome, though he said he did not want to "micro-manage" the prison.


But Cogan declined to intervene on complaints over the size of Guzman's cell, his window, whether he could hear "phantom music" or television programming during his daily hour of exercise.

Cogan's advice: Take it up with the Bureau of Prisons and only bring those issues to him if jail officials make the process too hard.

The judge ruled that the conditions don't create constitutional concerns.

Guzman also said at the hearing, through an interpreter, that he understood that four of the witnesses expected to testify against him had previously been represented by the same federal public defender's office that represents him, though not by the same attorneys, raising the possibility of conflicts of interest. "He has recently been experiencing auditory hallucinations, complaining of hearing music in his cell even when his radio is turned off", his attorneys wrote in one filing. He also rejected a demand to allow an Amnesty International representative inside the jail to assess allegations that the conditions are abusive, saying the human rights group's involvement would be "superfluous".

The judge ordered United States prosecutors to "cease any communications with MCC staff" in which prison employees report back on the content of those meetings.

The U.S. government has said severe restrictions are necessary for Guzman in part because he used coded messages, bribes and other means to continue operating his drug empire from behind bars and arrange escapes.


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