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Plaintiffs' attorney in jail lawsuit says recent hearing should be a 'come to Jesus moment' for the county

A federal judge has granted a motion, saying the conditions at the Vigo County Jail are unconstitutional while also outlining orders in solving problems at the Vigo County Jail.

Posted: Sep 25, 2018 2:53 PM
Updated: Sep 25, 2018 10:51 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - A federal judge has outlined new requirements for Vigo County leaders regarding the Vigo County Jail.

The parties involved in the lawsuit over conditions at the jail appeared in court on Friday for a hearing on a partial summary judgment. This kind of judgment can allow for disputes to be settled without a trial.

Former inmate, Jauston Huerta, and others filed the lawsuit against Sheriff Greg Ewing and other county leaders in 2016. The plaintiffs have maintained the conditions at the jail are unconstitutional, leading to injuries and other issues.

A Minute Entry filed on Monday, show the court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a partial summary judgment, "...To the extent that it found that conditions at the Vigo County Jail were unconstitutional."

Magnus-Stinson ordered county leaders to prepare a timeline which details when the new jail will be operational. The defendants must file the report by October 15, 2018.

Under the order, the parties involved must also plan how to correct issues causing violations of inmates' federal rights. The documents filed on Monday state county leaders should increase staffing at the jail. The addition is expected to further the goal of increasing recreation for inmates, and improve jail staff's ability to perform medical and safety checks.

According to the documents filed on Monday, the court will soon issue an order discussing the relief available to the plaintiffs due to the conditions.

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Magnus-Stinson is also requiring the entities involved to report to the court periodically on the progress of the new jail and how constitutional violations are being addressed. The first report of this kind is set for November 13. 2018 at the Federal Courthouse in Terre Haute. Sheriff Ewing, the leaders of the Vigo County Commissioners and Vigo County Council must be present.

The court notes it is relying on the Vigo County Council's approval of a Local Option Income Tax to show county officials are serious about addressing the issues at the jail.

The order notes that solving the issues at the jail is best done by local officials, but the outlined steps in the order "do not begin alleviate the problem to the court's satisfaction."

The court has the ability to appoint a three-judge panel to consider whether a prisoner release order and other measures are appropriate.

News 10 spoke with Attorney Michael Sutherlin, who is representing the inmates in the lawsuit. He told us Friday's hearing should serve as a "come to Jesus moment" for the county, that's as the federal courts have lost its patience.

"It's a sad fact that you're an economically depressed area, which is one of the factors that sort of leads to a lot of crime," said Sutherlin, "but it's not an excuse for the government to sort of duck their responsibilities."

News 10 also reached out to County Attorney Michael Wright and Sheriff Greg Ewing on Tuesday, but they were unavailable for comment.

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