For 12 weeks, a 39-year-old man with a history of mental illness lay flat on his back, naked except for underwear.

The light was never turned off in the prison room where he was kept strapped to a "restraint board." He got bed sores and had hallucinations. He was let up, on average, four times a week.Now, Steven LeRoy Nelson has filed a lawsuit against the three Department of Corrections doctors who took him off his medication and authorized his restraint.

Prison doctors Robert Dennis Jones, Van Austin and Richard Garden are named in the suit, which was filed Wednesday in 3rd District Court.

Under state and federal claims, the lawsuit said the doctors inflicted "unnecessary vigor," performed professional malpractice, took away the man's due process and inflicted cruel and unusual punishment.

Nelson, who turned 40 after his removal from the board, was forced to live under "socially and clinically unacceptable, barbaric and inhumane conditions," the lawsuit states.

Nelson, who is now being treated at the Utah State Hospital, is cooperating with attorneys from the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Disability Law Center on his lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.

Frank Mylar, attorney for the Department of Corrections, said the lawsuit's claims are unfounded.

"We have a good group of professionals exercising their clinical judgment," Mylar said. "The decision to put (Nelson) on the board was an exercise of clinical judgment."

But the case raises more questions about the quality of mental health-care at the prison, said Fraser Nelson, director of the Disability Law Center.

The suit comes a week after Corrections Director Lane McCotter resigned and two months after the death of schizophrenic inmate Michael Valent, who was restrained in a chair for 16 hours.

Fraser Nelson and Carol Gnade, director of the ACLU, met with two Corrections officials Tuesday. They are optimistic another meeting next week will allow them input on Corrections' restraint policy.

Steven Nelson has spent 18 of the past 20 years in prison on charges ranging from manslaughter to escape. After his arrest while on parole in 1994, he was returned to the Utah State Prison.

The man's lawyers contend he grew up being emotionally abused, degraded and neglected and began hurting himself as a young boy.

At 14, he shot himself in the abdomen.

"On other occasions he set his leg on fire, pushed a paper clip through his chest wall, cut open his abdomen with a razor and inserted a pencil into his abdomen," the lawsuit states.

Doctors created a colostomy bag for the inmate because of the injuries from the pencil, but less than two months later he cut his abdomen and colostomy with a razor.

The man was treated at University Hospital and the Utah State Hospital before returning to the prison. His psychiatric medications were then removed by Jones and Austin, said John Pace, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU.

He was strapped to the board Feb. 23, 1995.

For 12 weeks and one day, Nelson was restrained by the chest, arms and legs to the stainless steel board. A judge ordered him transferred to the state hospital after a public defender visited him and saw his condition.

Pace questions the doctors' judgment in ceasing medication for a man who suffers from depression and reported hearing the voices of his dead parents and son.