Meghan Hoyer, The Courier-Journal March 30, 2001, Friday Ind/Indiana Copyright 2001 The Courier-Journal The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY.) March 30, 2001, Friday Ind/Indiana
(JENNINGS COUNTY, Kentucky) - Contending that conditions at the Jennings County jail are ''horrific,'' a former inmate has filed notice that he plans to sue the sheriff, county council and county commissioners on behalf of every inmate housed there during the last six months.
Brian Roberts, 33, claims the jail is understaffed, overcrowded and inadequately ventilated and lighted. Inmates do not have adequate showers, food, exercise, medical care or sleeping space, he said.
''That jail is just completely dilapidated,'' said Bart Betteau, Roberts' attorney. P> The notice - which is required under state law before a public agency can be sued - was filed only days before Jennings County opens a new $ 5 million jail complex that will house inmates as well as the offices of the sheriff's department and the 911 and EMS centers.
The new building should ease many of the county's problems with the old facility, said Ed Judd, county auditor.
''The need was recognized well over five years ago,'' Judd said. ''And we are days away from moving. We've just got a few final touches left. We're very proud of this new jail. It's a great facility.''
Betteau, of New Albany, said the new jail would benefit future inmates, but doesn't change the ''unconstitutional conditions'' that exist now.
''They've tried to remedy the situation, but it's too little, too late,'' Betteau said.
Judd said he couldn't comment on the suit notice because he and the commissioners have not seen a copy of it. Sheriff Earl Taggart was out of his office yesterday, and county attorney Alan Marshall did not return several phone messages left at his office.
According to jail-inspection reports from the state Department of Correction, the current jail, built in 1952, has been overcrowded every day for the last two years. During an inspection in August 2000, it held 61 inmates, but had beds for only 32.
The rest slept on floor mats, sometimes with as many as 21 in a cell built for eight, the inspector wrote.
After the 2000 inspection, the department recommended that the county not continue to use its jail.
The new jail - which Judd said may be opened as early as this weekend - will have 104 beds.
In addition to the overcrowded conditions, mentally ill or violent inmates can't be separated from the general population in the current jail, inspection reports said.
In his claim, Roberts said he suffered because the jail did not properly classify and separate inmates.
He was arrested on a warrant on Nov. 29, 2000, and taken to the jail. According to Betteau, Roberts told jail officers that there would be trouble in his cell because another inmate was violent. The claim states that the officers failed to move Roberts or take preventative measures.
He was assaulted by another inmate and suffered a collapsed lung, fractured ribs and severe bruising in the attack, the claim states.
Jail officers refused to get him medical treatment for one day, the claim says, until his attorney in the criminal case persuaded the sheriff's department to take him to Jennings County Hospital. Roberts has permanent head injuries as a result of the attack, Betteau said.
The notice of intent to sue provides only one side of the case.
Under state law, a lawsuit can be filed no sooner than 90 days after the notice. Unless the county responds to the claim, Betteau said, he plans to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.