Commission calls special meeting on jail lawsuit

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Carter County Commissioners have requested a special called commission meeting on Monday to discuss the jail lawsuit against the county and Sheriff John Henson.
   The meeting will begin for commissioners at 5 p.m. to tour the jail. At 6 p.m. commissioners will meet with Knoxville based Attorney John Duffy, representing Carter County and Henson, for an executive meeting, which is closed to the public. The public meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the courtroom, following the completion of the executive meeting.
   County Mayor Dale Fair met with Duffy, from the law firm of Watson and Hollow, and the Jail Task Force on April 2 to discuss the lawsuit. During the meeting, the 11 present commissioners felt it was important to call a special meeting.
   "They thought the full commission should hear from the attorney," said Fair.
   In the closed executive session, commissioners will discuss options to improve the jail overcrowding problem, hear the evaluation of the case from the attorney, and ask any questions "they might need to know," said Fair.
   Both meetings will be held in the Carter County Courthouse main courtroom. Members of the public will have to wait until the executive meeting is closed before they can enter the courtroom.
   The first hearing of the lawsuit case will be April 26. The discussion of the lawsuit was on the agenda for the regular commission meeting on April 19 at 10 a.m., but the commissioners that asked for the specially called meeting felt it was important to speak with the attorney sooner than the regular commission meeting.
   During the public meeting "there will be an open floor for commissioners to say what they want to say. We have worked hard to keep the ball rolling and tried to stay focused on that," said Fair.
   The lawsuit contend that all three plaintiffs were incarcerated in the Carter County Jail and suffered some form of harm during their time at the detention facility.
   The lawsuit -- originally two lawsuits joined later -- claim conditions at the jail, "fall beneath the minimum standards for human decency, inflict cruel and needless punishment on all of the inmates, and create an environment that takes a tremendous toll on the inmates' physical and emotional well-being," the lawsuit claims.
   The suits seek an injunction against the defendants to correct the conditions.
   "Plaintiff and the class seek to alleviate unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, dental care and mental health care, lack of exercise and recreation, lack of access to legal materials and legal assistance, lack of fire safety, lack of basic hygiene materials, lack of adequate supervision, and other unconstitutional conditions at the facility," the suit claims.
   In the response, 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," Duffy said in his response.