Sheriff’s Department denies ACLU allegations |

Sheriff’s Department denies ACLU allegations

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

Garfield County Undersheriff Tim Templon on Monday denied the American Civil Liberties Union’s allegations against Sheriff Lou Vallario and the Garfield County Jail.The ACLU is seeking an emergency order from a federal judge in Denver that would prohibit Vallario and his staff from barring ACLU lawyers from interviewing inmates, some of whom claim jail staff are violating their rights. Current, but unwritten, jail policy requires Sheriff’s deputies to ask an inmate who his/her attorney is, and if the inmate’s answer isn’t the lawyer seeking an interview, the meeting is denied. The case is set to come before Federal District Judge Walker D. Miller in Denver this morning. Without the jail’s policy, deputies are required to escort inmates to meet with their visitors, and Templon said it gets expensive if an inmate is taken from a cell to be interviewed frequently.

“It takes manpower to do that, which in turn costs money,” he said. If any lawyer were allowed to talk to any inmate he wants to, lawyers could end up competing with each other at the jail over inmate representation. A judge will have to decide whether the policy is appropriate, he said. Templon said ACLU attorneys are allowed to talk to inmates if an inmate identifies the ACLU as his attorney. “They don’t like a small-town sheriff to tell them ‘no’ to something,” Templon said of the ACLU.As to the ACLU’s allegations of inmate abuse at the jail, Templon denied all of them outright, calling the claims “sensationalized.”

“I’m 100 percent sure we are in the right,” he said. Templon said Vallario is on vacation out of the country, and will likely offer a more detailed explanation of jail policies and procedures when he returns next week. Alleged abuses the ACLU cited in legal documents filed in federal court last week include abusive and unjustified use of a restraint chair and pepper spray as punishment; forcing at least one inmate to take outdoor recreation time before dawn in subzero temperatures without shoes; lack of adequate health care; and denial of health care, among others. In denying the allegations, Templon said the jail’s restraint chair is used when an inmate becomes combative and tries to injure himself or another person. “What else do you do with a person like that?” Templon said. “It’s actually for their own benefit.”He said restrained inmates are monitored by medical staff.

To illustrate that the jail is not violating inmates’ rights and is operated professionally, Templon cited a 2005 facilities assessment report written by the federal National Institute of Corrections (NIC), an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report, written after an NIC inspector visited the jail over three days in August and September 2005, says the jail “is extremely well maintained and managed,” and “staff is professional in their demeanor and treats the inmates with respect, which is returned (with very few exceptions) by the inmates to the staff.”There is a lack of space for medical exams such that inmates’ medical files are kept in file cabinets in the exam room, the report said. The report also said the jail lacks an adequate operations manual, which it said is “critical.”A manual will ensure that the staff are operating the jail according to the decisions of management and that operating practices are “consistent and meet legal mandates.””Should the jail ever be subject to litigation, the manual will provide the courts and its juries with a detailed description of how the jail is intended to be operated,” the report said. “The second half of what would be needed would be documentation showing that practices are following policies and procedures.”

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