Second lawsuit against jail on par with first

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   A second class action lawsuit citing "inhumane" conditions at the Carter County Jail was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday.
   As with the first lawsuit, Carter County and Sheriff John Henson are named as defendants and the lawsuit claims that the civil and constitutional rights of the inmates housed at the facility were violated.
   "Plaintiffs and the class contend that the conditions of confinement at the Carter County Jail are inhumane, inflict needless punishment on inmates, and create an environment which threatens and causes unnecessary harm to their physical and mental health," states the lawsuit. "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."
   This second lawsuit was filed by Knoxville attorney John Eldridge on behalf of Tony Berry and seeks class action status to include all persons are incarcerated, have been incarcerated or will be incarcerated in the Carter County Jail.
   Berry was an inmate at the detention facility from June 18 to Sept. 8 of this year. According to the lawsuit, Berry was classified as a "pre-trial inmate," meaning that he had not yet been tried on the charges brought against him and therefore had not been convicted or sentenced to punishment.
   One of the major factual allegations listed in the suit brought forth by Berry is the lack of medical attention he received while incarcerated in the jail. Berry suffers from diabetes and also suffers from a back injury which left him with two broken vertebrae. "Upon his entry into the jail, he informed the authorities of his back problems and his need for a cushioned bed to avoid aggravating his back injury," the suit contends. "Jail authorities ignored him and put him on the floor throughout his time in the facility."
   The suit alleges that Berry also told jail employees about his diabetes and the seriousness of the disease. Berry brought his prescription medication with him when he was incarcerated and told jailers that he needed to take the medication twice a day and have his blood sugar levels checked three times a day, according to the lawsuit. "At the jail, his blood sugar level was checked only nine times during the entire 87 days he was there," the lawsuit states, adding that jail staff allowed Berry's prescription to run out despite Berry's requests to see a physician to get it refilled.
   During Berry's incarceration, he began to notice blood in his urine and repeatedly asked to see a physician about the condition, the lawsuit states. After passing out, the suit alleges, Berry was finally transported to Sycamore Shoals Hospital where he was diagnosed with a kidney stone and returned to the detention facility.
   "By this time, he was getting sicker and sicker due to the lack of medication for his diabetes (during the last two and a half weeks he was there he had no medication) and his kidney stones," the lawsuit states. "His attorney was fortunately able to get him before Judge Robert Cupp, who immediately released him on a medical furlough."
   According to the suit, Berry went straight to the hospital and discovered that his sugar/insulin level was so out of balance that his medical care providers had still been unable to regulate it by the time of the filing of the suit. "As a result, Plaintiff has black out spells, uncontrollable shaking, dizziness, loss of eyesight and is unable to work," states the lawsuit. "Plaintiff avers that the authorities were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and that as a consequence, he has endured great pain and suffering and, in addition, has received injuries which are permanent in nature."
   The suit also contends that the inmates incarcerated at the Carter County Jail are forced to live in unsanitary and unsafe conditions due to overcrowding, inadequate ventilation, fire hazards, inadequate lighting and inadequate plumbing.
   "The cells are small, unsanitary, cramped, and so badly ventilated that the air is stagnant and has foul odors. The plumbing is old and in many cases non-functional. Leaks in the plumbing result in water pooling on the floors of the cells. Inmates are frequently denied access to hot and/or cold water due to plumbing problems," the suit states. "In some cells, the lighting is so poor that the inmates do not have enough light to read or write."
   The suit also alleges that the jail is understaffed to appropriately handle the number of inmates housed there. "At all times, but especially at night, the staff is so limited that even routine inmate needs such as dispensing medicine or responding to medical problems, accidents, etc. go unmet," the suit states. "The number of staff is inadequate to respond effectively to a serious emergency, such as fire, inmate assaults or disturbances."