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Sunday, November 27, 2011

ACLU Sues Sheriff's Office Over Complaining Prisoners

ACLU sues Canyon County sheriff, alleging jail punished prisoners who file grievances
The Idaho Statesman by Kristin Rodine - November 23, 2011

The civil rights organization, which had previously sued Canyon County in 2009 over conditions caused by chronic jail overcrowding, raised new allegations Wednesday in a federal lawsuit that targets Sheriff Chris Smith and his chief deputy. The complaint contends that Chief Deputy Gary Deulen ordered that a prisoner be transferred to a different facility in retaliation for the prisoner filing numerous complaints and keeping in contact with the ACLU. The suit also alleges that Smith and Deulen “maintain a policy and practice of retaliating against prisoners who file grievances that allege unconstitutional conditions of confinement.” Smith and Deulen could not be reached for comment Wednesday night. The ACLU sent out a news release about the lawsuit after business hours Wednesday. The suit, filed on behalf of present and future Canyon County jail inmates, has two named plaintiffs who remain in the jail and also details the story of inmate Dana Harris, who was transferred out of the jail after repeatedly complaining about what he considered unsanitary conditions. The plaintiffs contend the only reason Harris was sent to another jail Oct. 25 “was to prevent him from notifying the ACLU about further deficiencies in the jail and to hinder his right of access to the courts.” The complaint quotes an email from Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Carl Ericson, who responded to a query from an ACLU attorney by stating Deulen decided to transfer the inmate to the Payette County Jail because Harris “did not appear to like being in our jail based on the large number of grievances and complaints that had been submitted.” “There was no retaliation against Harris,” Ericson wrote. “He had major issues with being in our jail so he was sent to a jail that would be more acceptable to him.” The Sheriff’s Office often transfers inmates to jails in surrounding counties to keep inmate numbers down to levels required by an agreement with the ACLU that at least temporarily resolved the organization’s previous lawsuit, filed in January 2009 alleging “indecent, cruel and inhumane conditions” in the jail. Lorraine Scott, one of the named plaintiffs, complained to jail staff she was being threatened by another prisoner. The lawsuit contends that staff placed Scott in solitary rather than respond to her grievances. “Threats and retaliation put a chill upon the exercise of rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the Idaho ACLU. “In a facility known for having many significant problems, it is essential that prisoners are able to lodge grievances without fear of retaliation.”

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