Public defenders want TV crew out of Kan. county jail

​In the motion, the lawyers say their clients’ constitutional privacy rights are being "imperiled by MSNBC Lockup operating at the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility"

By Matt Riedl
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA, Kan. — Public defenders from the county will ask a judge Friday to prohibit an MSNBC television crew from filming a prison documentary in the Sedgwick County Jail.

Mark Rudy, the chief public defender, said his office – as well as the Sedgwick County Conflicts Office and the Death Penalty Defense Unit – plan to submit a motion ordering the jail closed to the “Lockup” crew.

The crew has been filming in the Sedgwick County Jail since Sept. 8 and plans to stay until Oct. 28. It also plans to return for a week in December to film follow-up material.

“Lockup,” which airs on weekends, is a prison documentary TV show that profiles life in prison by following inmates’ stories, as well as those of prison staff and general criminal justice.

MSNBC contract with sheriff
​Two deputies escort the crew at all times, and “Lockup” pays for overtime expenses as necessary – at a rate of $40.56 an hour for the first deputy and $52.45 an hour for a second deputy, according to the agreement signed by the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Jeff Easter maintains the show will provide positive coverage for the jail and will serve as a recruitment tool for detention deputies, which the jail is “really hurting for.”

“Our detention deputies … never get talked about unless it’s something they did wrong and we’re getting sued,” Easter said.

Sedgwick County public defenders' motion
In the motion, the lawyers say their clients’ constitutional privacy rights are being “imperiled by MSNBC Lockup operating at the Sedgwick County Adult Detention Facility.”

They say that they were not informed the show would be filming at the jail.

“We’ve been made aware maybe within the last week what was going on, and as we’re starting to learn more and more about what they’re doing in there, we felt it imperative to take action,” Rudy said.

The defense attorneys are concerned inmates could incriminate themselves in interviews with “Lockup.”

“Though jail inmates may have limited privacy rights, it cannot be the case that they lose every vestige of their privacy to not be exposed to the predatory media,” the motion reads.

Everyone who appears on the show must sign a waiver saying that they agree to be filmed. If they do not sign the waiver, Easter said, “they will not show you, period.”

“These inmates have the right to refuse to sign anything, not to do anything and they won’t be on there,” Easter said.

In the motion, the lawyers say they are “concerned that clients participating in interviews with MSNBC Lockup may be at risk of coercion or duress in executing waivers.”

The lawyers also say that, because the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and the “Lockup” crew are working closely together, the “Lockup” crew has become “state actors, and individuals acting under the color of law.”

Essentially, they allege that because law enforcement can’t go “wandering around the jail with a video camera interviewing inmates,” the TV crews should not be allowed to do so, either.

The defense attorneys are requesting that the “Lockup” crew be banned from entering the jail.

A message left with a spokesman for 44 Blue, which produces “Lockup,” was unanswered as of Thursday evening.

Easter said he was informed Thursday the attorneys were “not happy with these folks being here.”

“I have to tell you, these people are adults that are sitting in here,” he said. “I’m sorry their attorneys don’t care for it, but they could also advise their clients not to speak to anybody, too. That’s their right. Concerning what goes on in the jail, I’m not sure that’s their right.”

A judge is expected to hear the motion for injunctive relief at 9 a.m. Friday during a motion docket in district court, though the case may not be fully argued Friday, Rudy said.

“We’ll see what the injunction is about, and I’ll talk to my attorney about it,” Easter said. “However the judge rules, we’ll abide by it.”

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