Lawsuit awaits action

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

    A response to a lawsuit filed against Carter County and Sheriff John Henson on Nov. 3 citing "inhumane" conditions at the Carter County Jail has not yet been filed but should be by Christmas, according to the attorney representing the county in the case.
    John Duffy, an attorney out of Knoxville, stated on Tuesday he has not yet had time to familiarize himself with the case and conditions at the jail to file a response within the deadline prescribed by the rules of the U.S. District Court in Greeneville, where the lawsuit was filed.
   "I was just assigned the lawsuit last week," Duffy said. "Lawyers in East Tennessee are generally flexible with that and Mr. (Scott) Pratt (the attorney for the plaintiffs) has been gracious enough to be flexible on that with me. We will be filing a response sometime before Christmas."
    According to Duffy, no date has been set for hearings, motions or other actions in the case at this time. "The plaintiffs' counsel wants to tour the facility this month and we're trying to get that set up."
    Pratt stated that interest in the lawsuit has grown since he originally filed the complaint. "I've gotten literally dozens of calls about it from people who have been beaten up in the jail, and describing the exact conditions named in the lawsuit and people not getting proper medical treatment because the county does not want to pay for prescriptions," he said, adding that several parties have expressed interest in joining the suit once class-action certification has been issued.
    A judge determines how a lawsuit is designated, and Pratt said he believes the case will receive class-action status due to the circumstances of the complaint.
    The lawsuit alleges that conditions at the jail are, and have been for some time, inhumane for inmates confined at the detention facility. "The plaintiffs contend that the totality of conditions at the Carter County 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 complaint states.
    Violations of inmates' first, fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth and fourteenth amendment rights also occurred, according to the lawsuit.
    The complaint claims that the defendants in the case, Carter County and Henson, are responsible for the conditions at the jail "by their policies, procedures and customs" and have failed to improve them.
    "Despite direct and long term knowledge of the inhuman and inhumane conditions at the Carter County Detention Center, and the availability of public funds and grants for maintenance and improvements, the defendants have deliberately failed to exercise their power to improve conditions at the jail," the lawsuit states.