As arrest rates rise, Metro Corrections struggles to combat inmate overflow

LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- Attorneys for two former Metro Correction inmates have filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the jail's director claiming hundreds of inmates have been unlawfully imprisoned by being detained after judges ordered them released.

The lawsuit, filed Friday on behalf of Jacob Healey and Larry Louis Hibbs Jr., claims "false imprisonments and unlawful detainments have been regularly" occurring at the jail. The suit is seeking class action status for "hundreds" of inmates impacted in the last year.

The suit asks a U.S. District Court judge to issue an injunction stopping the practice and requiring training and supervision to prevent false imprisonments.

It comes as Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton and his top staffers prepare for a March contempt hearing ordered by a Jefferson District Court judge who alleges the jail is not following orders on releasing inmates.

On Jan. 27, Judge Stephanie Burke harshly criticized jail officials, telling them there was a "leadership problem" and an attitude from some top officials that they do not need to follow orders.

"I think this is a systemic problem," Burke told Bolton, his spokesman Steve Durham and Chief of Staff Dwayne Clark, among others. "There is a wide consensus, not just in this court but in others, among the (Bar Association), the court staff, the clerks, the sheriffs, that this is a problem and it's a daily problem. This is something that needs to be a collaborative effort to resolve."

A jail spokesman says the department has not been able to review the lawsuit and cannot comment at this time.  

Healey was one of several examples Burke used of defendants allegedly released too soon or kept in jail after they were supposed to be let out, causing hardship for inmates and a danger to citizens.

Healey was ordered to serve three days days in jail on Jan. 9, but was still in custody on Jan. 13 and only released "after he began making inquiries himself as to why" he was still in jail, according to the lawsuit.

"I don't know why I was held longer," Healey said in an interview with WDRB late last month. "I work full-time and pay my taxes, yet I pay for people to be falsely imprisoned. I don't think that's fair."

Healey was also not given work release during his time in jail, despite a court order allowing it, the lawsuit claims.

In July, Hibbs was ordered jailed for 30 days, with work release because he owned and operated his own business, according to the suit. But he was "improperly and unlawfully imprisoned" for 10 days before given work release by the jail, the suit alleges.

Several of these issues have been brought to the attention of the jail by court officials but the "false imprisonments, detainments or incarcerations nonetheless continue unabated," according to the lawsuit, filed by attorneys James Ballinger, Gregory Belzley and Camille Bathurst.

Current and former inmates have missed work, medical appointments, school and were "denied their freedom" by actions that were "cruel, malicious" and a "total and reckless disregard" for their rights, the lawsuit claims.

Judge Burke has cited 16 specific cases in which Metro Corrections is accused of not following orders, and she argues that between Jan. 4 and Jan. 20 of this year, the jail has failed to bring "numerous" defendants to their scheduled court dates.

The judge also writes in her order that she is only including a "limited number of the incidents" Louisville judges have dealt with in recent months.

But Assistant County Attorney Matt Golden, who is representing the jail, said he believed many of the judge's claims were not accurate.

In a written response, Golden said there are "significant factual inaccuracies" and cited two of the cases Burke mention, arguing Metro Corrections employees had followed orders correctly.

Burke set the civil contempt hearing date for March 28. In civil contempt, a person is punished until they follow a judge's order, with possible jail time or fines.

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