Jail lawsuit gets class-action OK | PostIndependent.com

Jail lawsuit gets class-action OK

Pete FowlerPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS The American Civil Liberties Unions lawsuit alleging prisoner abuse at the Garfield County Jail can go forward on behalf of all current and future inmates instead of only the four original plaintiffs.U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Y. Daniel issued a a 42-page opinion on Thursday certifying class action status on five of the lawsuits six claims for relief. It does mean the practices were challenging are sufficiently widespread, Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, said in a phone interview.He said the judges opinion doesnt determine whether the practices the ACLU is challenging are legal or illegal, only that they apply to a large number of prisoners.This is not a victory or defeat, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said in a prepared statement. Just part of the process we anticipated. This certification is based solely on the sensationalized complaint alleged by the ACLU. The judge at this point can only rule on the complaint as filed and has not yet been presented with the merits of this case. Further, we are considering appealing this ruling based on an existing case out of El Paso County already heard and pending a ruling inthe 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The El Paso County appeal, when handed down, will strongly play a part in determining if this class certification ruling is correct.The ACLUs 85-page complaint, originally filed in July 2006, claims the jail violated prisoners rights by repeatedly using threats and excessive force with things like restraint chairs, Taser guns, electroshock belts, pepper-ball guns and pepper spray. The ACLU also contends that the jail fails to provide legally required mental health treatment and punishes prisoners without due process.Judge Daniels opinion denied class-action certification to one claim for relief alleging that jail policy interferes with a prisoners right to meet with attorneys in a confidential setting. The ACLU contends prisoners are asked, Who is your attorney? and can only meet with the attorney if the prisoner provides a specific name instead of answering the ACLU. The opinion says that the ACLU did not demonstrate that the practice is widespread enough to move forward on a class action basis.The ACLU lawsuit names Vallario and Jail Commander Scott Dawson. The four original plaintiffs are Clarence Vandehey, William Langley, Jared Hogue, and Samuel Lincoln. On Thursday, Lincoln was convicted of nearly stabbing a man to death and robbing him and his family in a trailer in West Glenwood Springs in 2004. He was sentenced in January to 222 years in prison for shooting at Mesa County deputies and trying to shoot a man to death in the desert near Grand Junction in 2005. The ACLU plans to use the jails own records to prove the plaintiffs claims.Silverstein said the class-action certification is important because the original plaintiffs are no longer in jail. Their individual claims for the jail to change its policies no longer apply, he said, so class-action status allows the ACLU to continue pursuing policy changes at the jail.The ACLU has waited for a ruling on the motion for class-action certification since it was filed in October 2006. The ruling was delayed because the judge handling the case, Phillip S. Figa, fell ill and passed away in December before the case was reassigned to Daniel, the opinion states.The ACLUs lawsuit isnt the only one addressing jail procedures. William Brent Huntley filed a lawsuit in February claiming jail staff ignored his medical needs in 2006, leading to a fall that caused him to lose sight in one eye. Adam Burke, another former inmate, filed a lawsuit in January claiming he was subjected to inappropriately long hours in a restraint chair after being shot with pellets that release a chemical similar to pepper spray.Silverstein said the ACLU talked to Burke about jail conditions, which helped establish some of the ACLUs allegations.There is an allegation about a prisoner who was injured in the testicles while being shot with a pepper-ball gun, Silverstein said. Thats Mr. Burke.Vallarios statement adds, The Garfield County Sheriffs Office is 100 percent confident that when we have our day in court and the truth is presented to the judge we will prevail in every aspect of this frivolous lawsuit. In the meantime, the jail continues to provide a humane and appropriate environment for its detainees in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner.Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121pfowler@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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