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Inmates sue Marion County sheriff over delayed jail releases

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (February 15, 2015) -- Terry Clayton's problems began long before he went to court.

Clayton was arrested for battery and intimidation last fall, said Richard Waples, the attorney representing the former inmate in a federal lawsuit against the Marion County Sheriff.

On December 10th Clayton's trial came to a conclusion.

"The jury found him not guilty," said Waples. "There weren't any other charges against him. The judge issued an order right then and there at the conclusion of the trial that he be released. The sheriff then after the trial puts him in chains and handcuffs, takes him back to the jail, imprisons him for another two days before he's finally released."

Not only did Clayton served two months in jail awaiting trial for a crime he didn't commit, he served another 48 hours after the jury found him not guilty because the Marion County Sheriff's Department is bogged down in its processing of inmates in and out of the jail.

"The sheriff admits that there's a problem here," said Waples. "It’s widespread, it's systemic, the courts are frustrated by it, defense counsel are frustrated by it, the prosecutors are frustrated by it and certainly our clients, who represent the people who are spending the time in jail when they shouldn't be there, are extremely frustrated by it."

Each year the Marion County Sheriff is responsible for booking some 63,000 people into its jail and assorted detention centers.

Since the implementation of a new case management system called Odyssey last June, the sheriff has grappled with the mistaken release of inmates who should be held and the delayed departures of arrestees and offenders who shouldn't be.

"Not only is it a problem to the person that has to wait in jail for days after they should've been let free," said Waples, "it’s a problem for us all as citizens of the city because we pay to incarcerate people so it’s costing more for our government to be inefficient by incarcerating people who shouldn't be there because that's a cost every day."

FOX59 News has investigated the inefficiencies and glitches of the Odyssey case management system since its launch. Throughout the summer and fall, loved ones and friends of Marion County Jail inmates called FOX59 News to complain that offenders were not being released days after judges signed their paperwork.

FOX59 viewers said their friends and family members were told by jailers that the sheriff didn't have enough staff on duty to process the offenders out in a timely manner.

"The sheriff's department says they have 72 hours to release them and that's not the law," said Waples. "The sheriff's department should release them quickly.”

In September Sheriff John Layton brought in an outside management expert to examine the Odyssey system and how an offender's case moves from arrest through the jail to the courts and back out onto the streets.

"The scope of what I have been involved in is looking at the wrongful releases, and hand-in-hand with the wrong releases, the slow releases and the over-detentions," said Dr. Jon Padfield, a former state representative and president of Proffer Brainchild. "The recommendations that we came up with I'm very confident that we're going to see a substantial decrease in the number of over-detentions."

That was in September. Layton's staff promised changes by October 1st.

The four men listed in the federal class action lawsuit claim they were over-detained in November and December.

"The guys were being held over days after they were ordered released either on bail or if they had been found not guilty or if they had been ordered released on their own recognizance," said Waples. "The punishment aspect of this is horrible. The conditions are not good in jail and yet they're subjected to these conditions when maybe they didn't do anything and they're innocent, and even if they are guilty of the offenses charged, the punishments are so minor in many of these cases that they're going to end up effectively serving more time than they would even if they go to trial and are found guilty."

Waples estimates over-detentions like those served by his clients have been repeated thousands of times with other inmates during the last year.

The attorney sees a class action lawsuit, with its demand of compensation and changes in jail policy and practices, as the most effective remedy to the over-detention dilemma.

High above the main entrance to the sheriff's department is a banner proclaiming MCSD as one of the top 1 percent of the sheriff's departments in America. Layton, the 2014 Indiana Sheriff of the Year, sought the certification as his department emerged from years of oversight by the U.S. District Court.

The current lawsuit invites a federal judge to once again examine the operations and practices of the Marion County Sheriff's Department.

When asked for a response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman for Sheriff Layton told FOX59 News, "No comment as lawyers are still in the process of reviewing the amended complaint."