CONTEMPT FILED IN FULTON COUNTY JAIL LAWSUIT
Dangerous conditions fueled by understaffing and overcrowding prompt legal action
ATLANTA, GEORGIA – Today, the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a motion to hold defendants in contempt in Harper v. Fulton County, a civil class action case filed in 2004 on behalf of all those incarcerated at the Fulton County Jail because of dangerous conditions fueled by understaffing and overcrowding. The named defendants in the lawsuit are Fulton County, Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson and the Fulton County Commissioners.
Despite a consent order entered by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia nearly eight years ago, some of the order’s most basic requirements have not been met, including provisions banning the practice of forcing detainees to sleep on the floor of the jail, forbidding assigning detainees to cells that have broken locks, and requiring each shift to have enough officers to protect inmates from violence and provide basic services such as medical care.
As reflected in records maintained by the Jail and in the court-appointed monitor’s most recent reports to the court, the jail is critically understaffed, leaving people free to come and go from cells with broken locks, causing unnecessary delays in providing both routine and urgent medical care, and allowing fights to break out and injuries to go unnoticed and untreated. Homemade weapons and other contraband have continued to surface inside the jail, and each night more than 200 men are made to sleep on the floors.
The consent order specifies minimum numbers of line and supervising officers that must be present at each of the jail’s three daily shifts. However, the jail has been operating at well under the agreed post coverage, placing officers’ lives and the lives they are sworn to protect in harm’s way:
- One detainee reports that in September 2013 he was asked to help “staff take down a mentally ill man who was trying to “cut himself” and that on another occasion he “assisted” an officer who was “alone on the floor in separating two men fighting.” He states he was told that he “could help anytime an officer was alone.”
- Another man states that he saw two detainees in a fight and that although an officer instructed the detainees to stop fighting, “the officer stayed in the doorway of the cell until they stopped fighting on their own.” One of these men was taken to the medical unit for treatment.
- A man reports that his unit was locked down during two shifts in a day because there was only one floor officer present and another reports that “shanks,” cell phones, cash and marijuana are “easily” accessible in the Jail.
- Jail documents show that the delivery of medical services is also being delayed and compromised because of understaffing.
“Conditions in the jail have deteriorated to the point that the safety of anyone who lives or works in that environment is in jeopardy,” said Melanie Velez, attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights. “We are left with no choice but to ask the Court to find the Sheriff and Fulton County in contempt of the Court’s order and impose fines on them until defendants protect the constitutional rights of detainees and obey the consent order that they agreed to follow,” continued Velez.
To read the motion, please visit www .schr.org