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Marion County sheriff sued for illegal detentions

December 22, 2014

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is facing a proposed class-action lawsuit from defendants who were jailed in some cases for days after being found not guilty, posting bond or being ordered released by a judge.

Indianapolis attorneys Richard Waples and John Young on Friday filed a lawsuit against Marion County Sheriff John Layton on behalf of two defendants each jailed this month for two days longer than they should have been. The suit alleges wrongful detentions at the Marion County Jail are a persistent and well-documented problem. Waples said he believes there could be thousands of members of a class of people who were wrongly detained over the past two years.

waples-richard-mug.jpg Waples

The named plaintiffs in the suit are Michael Driver and Terry Clayton. Driver was charged with misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated on Dec. 13, and bond was set at $1,500. On Dec. 15, a judge ordered Driver released on his own recognizance, but he wasn’t let out of jail until about 6 p.m. on Dec. 17.

Clayton was jailed on pretrial detention on a robbery charge, and a jury found him not guilty late on the evening of Dec. 10. But the suit says he wasn’t released from jail until about 4 p.m. Dec. 12.
 
“The experiences of these two individual plaintiffs, of being held past the time they should have been released, is part of a policy, pattern, and practice of the Marion County Sheriff in holding incarcerated persons longer than legally authorized,” the suit contends. “It is not uncommon for prisoners who have been released by the courts on their own recognizance, paid a bond, found not guilty, or pled guilty for time served, to be held by the Marion County Sheriff longer than legally authorized, including days, past the time they should have been released.”

In a statement, the Sheriff's Office said since the department began its largest-ever information technology changes in June, it "has grappled with early releases and over detentions. ... The transition has not gone as well as expected."

"The information technology challenges facing the Marion County criminal justice system are indeed daunting. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for maintaining the county jail, however, the decision as to whether a person should be in jail or not is a judicial decision. Unfortunately, the I.T. systems in Marion County can make the clerical task of the actual inmate release a very difficult challenge," the statement said.

“The Sheriff’s Office will continue to work with the Courts and its other criminal justice partners to find final and proper solutions. Hopefully this litigation, like the jail overcrowding litigation before it, will lead to the realization that this is not just the Sheriff’s problem,” Layton said in the statement. “The Sheriff’s Office tries to keep people safe. We need the help of our fellow stakeholders and the I.T. community to get that job done, while making certain constitutional rights are protected. I look forward to working together with the Criminal Justice Planning Council and its working group on this matter.”

Waples said Monday that in Clayton’s case, corrections officers at the jail told him they had 72 hours to release inmates after their release orders, citing the standard for the maximum detention set by the U.S. Supreme Court in which someone may be jailed before appearing before a judge. But Waples said that time applies to holds after warrantless arrests before someone is charged.

“There have been a few defendants (in wrongful detention cases) across the country that advance that as a defense,” Waples said. “Courts have uniformly struck that down.”

He said it’s understandable that jail officials would take time and care in processing to ensure the correct people are being released, but that should take a few hours at most after a judge has ordered release. “Certainly, if they’re taking eight to 10 hours, that’s way unreasonable. A couple of days? There’s no defense for that,” Waples said.

The suit claims the improper detentions are a violation of due process rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. It seeks damages for loss of liberty, lost opportunities, emotional distress and other claims.

The case is Michael Driver and Terry Clayton v. Marion County Sheriff, 1:14-CV-2076.  
 

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