County responds to lawsuit

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   The lawyer representing Carter County and Sheriff John Henson in a lawsuit brought against both that cites "inhumane" conditions at the Carter County Jail has filed in federal court a response to the complaints of all three plaintiffs.
   In his response, filed Tuesday, Knoxville attorney John Duffy, on behalf of the County and Henson, denies many of the accusations made against the defendants.
   In the lawsuit - originally two lawsuits joined as one earlier this month - Duffy denies that the constitutional rights of inmates at the jail were denied them as the plaintiffs contend.
   In his response to the lawsuit, Duffy said the County and Henson recognize that there is an overcrowding problem at the Carter County Jail that could contribute to complaints by the plaintiffs. "It is admitted that the Carter County Jail has a TCI (Tennessee Corrections Institute) rated capacity of 91, and has housed as many as 237 prisoners at any given time, particularly on weekends," the Duffy said in his response.
   Despite the fact that the jail is overcrowded, the defendants deny that the overcrowding resulted in any inmate having to sleep on a bare floor as one plaintiff alleges. The County and Henson also deny that the overcrowding situation has resulted in inmate assaults. "It is admitted that prisoners generally are subject to varying levels of stress that would be expected as a result of committing crimes and being incarcerated. It is also admitted that, in any jail exists occasional random acts of fighting between prisoners," the response states.
   "It is denied that any stress levels or violence are the cause of or result from unconstitutional conditions of confinement."
   The lawsuit claims that alleged instances of violence occurred as a partial result of lack of adequate supervision at the jail, which the response denies. According to the response, there are closed-circuit cameras installed in hallways and in each individual cell block of the jail. "It is admitted that the Sheriff and jail officials would prefer to have additional correctional officers if the Sheriff's Department budget, which is fixed by the Carter County Commission, allowed for same," the response states.
   One portion of the lawsuit contains the individual claims brought by the three plaintiffs, which include allegations that officials at the Carter County Jail did not provide adequate medical care for inmates incarcerated at the facility. In addition to denying to have failed to provide adequate medical care for inmates, Duffy states that it is his opinion that the individual claims against the County and Henson do not belong in a class-action lawsuit as they are not representative of the entire class and as such they "must be adjudicated separately".
   Duffy also said the plaintiffs failed to make use of administrative remedies available to them to correct their individual complaints as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act.
   A hearing in the case has been scheduled before Magistrate Judge Dennis H. Inman on April 26 to hear a motion filed by the plaintiffs to give the lawsuit a class-action status and a motion filed by the plaintiffs calling for a preliminary injunction against the jail.