US Sues Dallas County in Federal Court over Jail
U.S. sues Dallas County over jail By ANABELLE GARAY, Associated Press Writer
Thu Sep 13, 9:24 PM ET
DALLAS – Conditions at the Dallas County jail are unsafe and the health care there inadequate, putting inmates at risk, federal prosecutors allege in a lawsuit against the county and its sheriff.
The U.S. Attorney’s office asked the federal court to require the county to correct deficiencies at the jail, which is among the largest detention complexes in the nation.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, the federal government contends that the county and its sheriff, Lupe Valdez, have known about the problems at the jail for some time and have failed to address them adequately.
By failing to fix the inadequacies, the inmates’ rights were violated, according to the lawsuit.
“Through the acts and omissions…Defendants have exhibited deliberate indifference to the health and safety of Dallas County Jail inmates,” the lawsuit said.
Federal officials contend the jail hasn’t provided adequate medical and mental health care to inmates and hasn’t ensured a safe and sanitary environment for detainees.
A federal report sent to Dallas officials in December said the jail violated the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care.
The Justice Department warned the county in December of a lawsuit if the problems weren’t fixed.
A separate report from February 2005 found that lapses in medical care in the Dallas County jail system resulted in undetected illnesses, excess costs and risks to the public.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards warned the county earlier this year to fix jail staffing problems or face possible closure. Jail officials said then they want to get the population down to about 6,000. They’ve held as many as 7,770 inmates.
In February, county officials approved a nearly $1 million settlement with the families of three mentally ill inmates who were denied medication while at the jail.
A little more than half of the award went to James Mims, a jail inmate whose psychiatric medications were withheld for two months in 2004. Mims nearly died when water was shut off in his cell for two weeks, his attorney said.
The problems aren’t just in dealing with mentally ill inmates, but also extend to people who require medication, such as diabetics, David Finn said.
“We’re talking about basic health care. If people treated animals this way, they would be … prosecuted,” he said.
A message left Thursday for a sheriff’s spokesman was not immediately returned. Valdez, elected more than two years ago, is responsible for the county’s five jail facilities. The complex houses those awaiting trial and sentenced inmates.
A message left Thursday evening at the office of Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, the county’s top executive, wasn’t immediately returned.