Miller County, Ark., Jail Inmates Sue Over Living Conditions

December 29, 2008

Four inmates at the troubled Miller County, Ark., jail in have filed lawsuits alleging “inhumane” living conditions at the aging facility.

Russell Lee, Paul Valdez Sr., Jason Weaver and Kenneth Young all filed their separate suits “pro se,” meaning they are representing themselves. Each complaint focuses on conditions at the jail at the end of September, when then-Sheriff Linda Rambo still oversaw the lockup’s operations.

“These conditions are unhealthy, unsanitary and inhumane and would tend to shock the sensibilities of any common person,” Lee’s lawsuit reads. On Sept. 29, Lee said he and other inmates were moved from “beds in both open dorms and in two-man cells” to common areas in maximum security-pods where they are being forced to sleep on the floor.

The lawsuits allege that toilets and sinks are not available for inmates. Lee claims the area he was housed in had capacity for 26 prisoners, though jailers crowded 41 in.

Valdez wrote that situation led to fights over food trays and the bathroom.

“Either wait (to use the bathroom) or take the chance of being beat up,” Valdez’s complaint said. “The ceilings are falling down and there are no cameras in the Max A, B, C and D pods. It is very unsafe for even the strongest man.”

All four lawsuits name Rambo, former Sgt. Dolly Simmons and Warden Janice Nicholson as defendants. Rambo and Simmons resigned in early November after Prosecuting Attorney Brent Haltom gave them each an ultimatum to quit or face criminal charges for violating the law. Rambo admitted she allowed an inmate to perform private work for Simmons’ sister.

Lee has requested permission to amend the complaint and is also asking the court to appoint a lawyer to represent him in the civil suit.

“I do not know where I can go to seek security and safety during my confinement in the Miller County jail,” Lee wrote.

Interim Sheriff Don Thornell said he acts any time an inmate voices concerns that they are not safe in the jail.

“We take every allegation seriously,” Thornell told the Texarkana Gazette newspaper. “We’ll investigate it.”

A mention in the Valdez complaint of being assaulted by another inmate will be investigated as well, Thornell said.

Escapes and jailer discipline remain a problem for the Miller County jail. The jail has Plexiglas walls that are easily shattered by inmates and door hinges that can be quickly taken apart. At least seven jailers have been fired for bringing contraband into the jail or for having inappropriate contact with inmates this year.

Information from: Texarkana Gazette,

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