Civil rights violations already being addressed at Ky. jail, officials say

Officials say they're continuing a path of improvements that will satisfy concerns


Mike James
The Daily Independent, Ashland, Ky.

CATLETTSBURG, Ky. — Top county officials say new leadership, upgrades and improved staffing are fixing problems that brought on a U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

They say a continuing path of improvement will satisfy the justice department’s concerns and, they hope, stave off a lawsuit.

The justice department said in a letter to Judge-Executive Eric Chaney that conditions at the jail violate prisoner rights, specifically those guaranteed in the Fourth, Eighth and 14th amendments.

Those rights include, respectively, unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment and due process.

The letter accompanied a 14-page report that outlined alleged prisoner abuses at the jail.

All the allegations stem from an initial site visit in November 2016 and documentation from the tenure of former jailer Joe Burchett and under the oversight of a previous judge-executive and fiscal court, they point out.

Chaney and all three commissioners — Randy Stapleton, Larry Brown and Keith Watts —?were elected in November and are on the fiscal court for the first time.

They also point out that new jailer Bill Hensley introduced a slate of corrective measures when he took office in December, 2018, well before the report was issued.

“A lot of this stuff we’ve already cleared up. Bill and I?stay in constant connection,”?Chaney said.

“We’ve already identified about all these areas,”?Hensley said. Since he took office he has hired new deputies, secured funding for better pay, and put his staff through numerous trainings.

Among trainings are proper use of force, use of restraint chairs, and use of pepper spray and tasers. Since early December deputies have used pepper spray once, and tasers not at all, he said.

Restraint chairs have been used twice, each time under the direction of a mental health provider to prevent self-harm to a prisoner.

The fiscal court provided an additional $200,000 to beef up the jail payroll and hopes the result will be a higher caliber of deputies, according to commissioner Randy Stapleton.

“Bill Hensley is working on correcting everything. He’s following the law by the book . . . at one point they were about ready to shut us down and after seeing the changes we made they let us stay open. We’re cooperating 100 percent. We don’t want our jail closed,”?he said.

“These violations go back to 2016 and a lot of issues have been addressed by the new jailer,” Brown said. “They gave us a punch list of things that need to be corrected and we’re addressing them,”?he said.

The justice department said in its letter it expected results by 49 days after the report’s issue date, it included a list of remedial measures but no mechanism for reporting or documentation.

The department has not made any specific requirements for reporting progress, county attorney Phil Hedrick said. “We hope that by the county meeting the demands litigation against the county can be avoided.”

What may happen is the justice department will conduct another inspection of the jail and its records, Hensley said.

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©2019 The Daily Independent (Ashland, Ky.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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