Attorneys on behalf of hundreds of SRJ inmates call for federal investigation into DHS probe
BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - Attorneys representing more than a thousand current and former inmates at Southern Regional Jail (SRJ) are calling on the U.S. Dept. of Justice to expand their probe beyond the facility.
The W.Va. Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the W.Va. Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation, acknowledged a federal investigation into the facility last Fall. But now, attorney Steve New and other attorneys involved in a federal civil rights suit are calling on U.S. Attorney Will Thompson to investigate what New believes was a coverup of the deadly conditions at the jail last Spring. He made the claim in reference to an investigation led by the Dept. of Homeland Security Sec. Jeff Sandy following reports by WVVA News regarding a lack of access to water at the jail.
An internal memo and videos leaked as part of that suit showed 40 of the jail’s 120 cells without running water, despite claims by Sec. Sandy that all inmates had access. Leaked internal email from Southern Regional Jail shows nearly 40 cells without water in November (wvva.com)
New held a press conference in Beckley on Monday with other attorneys on the case and the families of those who lost loved ones.
“I’m calling on the United States Attorney Will Thompson, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, to expand his office’s investigation into the sham investigation by the Dept. of Homeland Security, where the Dept. of Homeland Security attacked the media, attacked these families, and said oh, it was just a made-up deal. There’s no truth to these allegations of deplorable living conditions the media were bringing to light and the families were complaining about.”
Former correctional officer, Troy Carter, was present during Monday’s press conference. He said he was responsible for much of the video and photographic evidence collected at the jail between October, 2021, and January, 2022. Carter claimed Sec. Sandy personally conducted interviews with inmates as part of the DHS investigation and those who gave positive accounts of their experience at SRJ were, in turn, given glowing reviews.
“When they (the inmates) criticized or said something they didn’t like or a loved one put something out to the news, they were retaliated against. Pretty soon, you had inmates saying I don’t know if this is worth it. That was another aspect that was happening as well,” said Carter.
As the federal civil rights suit moves into the discovery phase, New said he hopes to be granted a second look at the autopsies of 12 inmates who died at the facility last year, saying the state medical examiner’s findings of ‘natural causes’ do not add up with the testimony of witnesses in the case.
Later in the press conference, New made additional claims regarding the preservation of evidence.
“We have reason to believe that documents are being shredded at Southern Regional Jail and when we confirm that with either inmate accounts or CO accounts, we plan to seek an injunction against the state of West Virginia to stop the destruction of evidence.”
At a press conference in Charleston on Monday regarding a separate, state police investigation (also led by DHS), Gov. Jim Justice was asked about the claims made at New’s press conference. He deferred his response to his Chief of Staff, Brian Abraham.
“We do acknowledge there have been instances of misconduct in our corrections institutions,” said Abraham. “In fact, Secretary Sandy may be able to detail. We’ve been able to cooperate with federal authorities to make sure those engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable. That being said, there’s many allegations that have been investigated internally and have not yielded accurate information and there have been individuals trying to exploit the situation.”
Sec. Sandy did not detail, but addressed the questions by simply stating that all inmate deaths are investigated internally and by State Police. When civil rights violations do occur, he said they are referred to federal investigators.
Meanwhile, the defendants in the federal case recently made a motion to dismiss the suit, claiming the defendants have not proven their case or provided sufficient evidence to show damages. Judge Frank Volk has yet to make a ruling on that motion.
The attorneys also filed an additional malpractice and wrongful death suit last week regarding the death of inmate Alvis Shrewsbury. New said Shrewsbury bled out after being refused medical treatment at the jail.
Robert Dunlap, Russell Williams, Zach Whitten, and Tim Lupardus are also attorneys on the case.
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