Federal judge blasts sheriff in Marion County Jail lawsuit

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- In June of 2014, the Marion County sheriff joined a computer case management system called “Odyssey” to better track criminal defendants from court to the jail and eventually to freedom. From the start, the jail’s end of the system was flawed by inadequate software, leading to thousands of offenders being held in jail for hours or days longer than the courts intended.

Five ex-inmates sued the Marion County sheriff in federal court.

Now, U.S. District Judge Richard Young has ruled on a motion to allow thousands of former offenders to be represented as a class and participate in any potential settlement if it's proven any of them spent an unreasonable amount of time in the jail after a judge ordered their release or they posted bond.

Citing deposition testimony by the sheriff’s own employees and commanders, Judge Young granted the class action status and found, “this evidence is sufficient for purposes of class certification to establish that the Sheriff adopted a policy of deliberate delay,” and, “The Sheriff continued to use Offender Management System even though he was aware that its continued use caused undue delay in the release of inmates,” and, “The court finds these systemic and gross deficiencies in OMS, of which the Sheriff was aware and resulted in violation of the Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, indicates for purposes of class certification that the Sheriff acted with deliberate indifference.”

The Marion County sheriff told FOX59 that it does not comment on pending litigation.

“I think there’s at least 5,000 people that were held from 2014 until the end of 2017 who were held over 24 hours after they were ordered to be released,” said Richard Waples, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the offenders. “We’re still getting calls from people who were over detained so we know that it's still a problem.”

During a FOX59 investigation, offenders said they were routinely told by jail personnel that the Marion County Sheriff had up to 72 hours to release an inmate after bond was paid or a judge’s order was received.

“We have several inmates who have said that’s what they were told by several different guards at the jail,” said Waples. “The sheriff acknowledged that that was never a program or a policy of the sheriff’s office and yet acknowledged that his own officers were telling the inmates that.”

In March of 2015, then-Sheriff John Layton issued a memo to his staff reminding them there was no 72- hour release policy.

The lawsuit also claims that Layton received an off-the-shelf software system in 2014 that was not compatible with the court’s computers from a company that held the jail’s contract on the inmate phone call system.

“Sheriff Layton became sheriff and was approached by GTL,” said attorney John Young. “GTL provided to Sheriff Layton the phone system that the inmates use that the sheriff and GTL make quite a bit of money, as much as seven figures a year for that captive audience.  So GTL, in order to guarantee the contract for the phones, offered to the sheriff this program OMS for free.

“We found that the Sheriff did not vet this program to determine whether it would work with Odyssey, the court’s program, and went ahead and made the decision to accept that program despite not knowing whether it communicated. They found out that it did not communicate. They then decided that they were not going to attempt to figure out how many people were being detained as a result of the failure.”

As a result, Waples said his firm had to build its own data base and has spent $250,000 on a software system to track offenders, their bonds, court orders and release times during the years 2014-2017.

“Most counties in Indiana release people within 15 minutes to an hour, maybe two hours,” he said. “Marion County, it’s a bigger county, maybe a little bit longer, but it shouldn’t take any more than three or four or five or six hours at the absolute most.”

A random study conducted for Marion Superior Court judges in 2017 found offenders held for 20-46 hours past their court-ordered time of release.

“It’s a substantial number,” said Waples. “There’s a lot of people who have lost a lot of time sitting in jail, they’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost time with their family, and it's cost us as taxpayers more money to keep people in jail who shouldn’t be there. We’ve got an overcrowding problem and yet we keep people that aren’t supposed to be there in jail.”

“What’s happening here is individuals who have a right to be released are being deprived of their liberty, a constitutional right, that we take very seriously,” said Young, the co-counsel on the case.

Both sides have asked the federal court to issue a summary judgement to a finding of facts in the case which may accelerate a settlement and a formula to determine which offenders are eligible for a payout.

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