ACLU gives notice to sue jail authority for 2014 water crisis

By Kyla Asbury | Jan 15, 2016

CHARLESTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia gave notice last week that it intends to sue the state for conditions at South Central Regional Jail during the 2014 water crisis.

The notice listed the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority-Division of Corrections and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey as defendants in the potential lawsuit.

The notice states that inmates at South Central were given inadequate amounts of drinking water and bathing water during the water crisis, which lasted from Jan. 9 until Jan. 14, 2014.

The ACLU stated in the notice that the state’s actions denied basic human needs, inflicted unnecessary and wanton pain and suffering and put complainants at substantial risk of physical injury, illness and premature death, which violated their rights under the Eighth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and Article III, Section 5 of the West Virginia Constitution.

“Clean and safe water for drinking and bathing is a basic human need, and people who were incarcerated did not have the ability to go to the store and purchase bottled water like everyone else,” said ACLU cooperating attorney Anthony Majestro. “The state has a constitutional obligation to care for people in its custody.”

The notice states that the inmates who requested water or medical attention were retaliated against, in violation of their First Amendment rights.

“During the water crisis, inmates were given as little as two bottles of water to drink per day,” said ACLU Staff Attorney Jamie Lynn Crofts. “That is not enough to meet their basic needs. It is unacceptable that inmates were not adequately cared for and that those who complained were punished.”

Crofts said people in state custody are among the most vulnerable members of society.

“It is my hope that this lawsuit will lead to proper planning and procedures for all state correctional facilities in the event of another water contamination,” Crofts said.

The ACLU will seek damages and injunctive relief to correct the flaws in agency policies that led to the constitutional violations.

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