Public Safety

Prisoner: Guards made me drink water until comatose, then took nude photos

Authorities investigated, but corrections department won't release records

An Oelwein man serving a life sentence for first-degree murder has filed two lawsuits stemming from allegations he was forced to drink water until he was comatose and later was photographed nude by a prison guard while he was hospitalized.

The two lawsuits were filed earlier this month by Jeff Sawvel, 43, an inmate currently assigned to Anamosa State Penitentiary. One, filed in Lee County, is against two correctional officers identified only as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2. The second, filed in Johnson County, names a female correctional officer. However, the lawsuit states the Department of Corrections has refused to positively identify her as one relevant to the lawsuit, and so also names Jane Doe as a defendant. The corrections department and state are also named in the second lawsuit.

A Department of Corrections spokesman said Thursday the department does not comment on pending litigation.

According to a 1997 Waterloo Courier article, Sawvel shot and killed a 70-year-old Fayette County man, Gehlen Quandt, that year.

Both lawsuits relate to incidents that allegedly unfolded in March 2016.

According to the Lee County lawsuit, Sawvel was an inmate at Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison at the time. He asserts that on March 10, 2016, two correctional officers demanded a urine sample. When he was unable to provide one, he “was forced to ingest large amounts of water in a short amount of time,” the lawsuit states.

Sawvel went into hyponatremia, in which sodium in the blood becomes low, the suit alleges. Symptoms include nausea, headache, confusion and fatigue. The condition can be life threatening, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sawvel was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he “continued to labor under a mental incapacity which left him unable to appreciate his condition, his actions or what was going on around him at the time,” the lawsuit states.


According to the lawsuit filed in Johnson County, while he was hospitalized, Sawvel was under the custody of the correctional officer identified as Jane Doe. The lawsuit asserts the correctional officer was seen by nursing and medical staff “to be involved in inappropriate physical contact” with Sawvel or forcing him to be photographed nude while he “remained in an altered mental state.”

The medical staff reported the incidents to Iowa State Penitentiary, which investigated, the lawsuit states.

The officer was allowed to resign or was fired, the suit states.

According to documents provided to The Gazette by Sawvel’s mother, the Iowa State Penitentiary Investigations Unit and the Inspector General’s Office investigated some or all of the incidents. That investigation was “completed with a substantiated finding,” a letter dated April 18, 2016, states.

“The warden has been notified,” the letter concludes.

The Gazette has sought additional information. But the Department of Corrections has said the records constitute an internal investigation and are not public.

Sawvel asserts he now suffers from severe and extensive physical and mental injury and is seeking unspecified damages for violations of his constitutional rights, negligence, invasion of privacy, negligent supervision and civil assault and battery.

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