West Virginia is no stranger to civil rights violations when it comes to jails and prisons.
If you or a loved one have suffered abuse or neglect while incarcerated in the mountain state, you may have the right to sue for compensation, and to hold the culprits accountable.
West Virginia’s correctional facilities are overcrowded, unsafe, and rampant with all forms of abuse and neglect, including rape and use of excessive force.
In 2016, inmates filed several lawsuits relating to violations perpetrated by the infamous Special Response Team (SRT), a special unit that allegedly shot inmates with projectiles, tased them, and injured them with flash-bang grenades over a period of at least two years.
The case led to a number of undisclosed settlements.
One particular video that was used as evidence, showed officers violently removing inmates’ belongings from their cells and later attacking them with grenades. The state tried to save face, alleging the video lacked “context.” Victims have also introduced photos of their injuries as evidence.
Video of other grenade attacks exist, but officials argued their release would undermine “the safety and security of staff and inmates."
Evidently, West Virginia’s authorities are far more concerned with looking good in the press than with respecting civil rights.
A crisis usually reveals the best and the worst in people, but also in a system.
Charleston, West Virginia Prisons Deprive Inmates of Water – Dehydration Results
Charleston, West Virginia’s correctional facilities were put to the test when a chemical spill contaminated the local water supply in 2014.
While officials have told reporters that prisoners received 8 bottles of water every day to keep them hydrated and safe, investigations by journalists and advocacy groups revealed they were actually given merely 32 ounces per day, roughly a third of the minimum they required according to the World Health Organization.
Because the water was far from enough, many inmates kept using the tap water to wash their faces and even to drink. Many showed symptoms of dehydration.
When the emergency state declared by the city ended, inmates went immediately back to using the tap water. But the general population had been advised that this might still be dangerous. At the time, nearly 40 percent of Charleston residents were still avoiding tap water.
As a result of this, many inmates continued to drink the tap water, and to get sick. At one point, people were going to the infirmary so often, that a new policy was put in place: those who made over three infirmary visits per month would be put in solitary confinement while they waited for an available spot at the medical facility.
Some of the inmates who were incarcerated in Charleston facilities at the time have never recovered from the conditions they developed as a result of drinking the contaminated water.
Incarcerated individuals are defenseless in these situation. Their voices are never heard when the policies that control their lives are designed. Sometimes, all they have is their right to file a lawsuit and try to secure some form of compensation for the physical and psychological damage they suffer on a regular basis.
Our top-tier attorneys are passionate civil rights advocates, who value human rights and basic dignity. They have secured multi-million dollar awards in cases of inmate death and abuse all over the United States. It is not uncommon for our cases to set important legal precedents that often contribute to changing the state’s broken prison system.
West Virginia’s Hellish Prisons
Jails and prisons in the mountain state are overcrowded and understaffed. This puts inmates at severe risk of being assaulted by peers and makes it nearly impossible for their basic, law-mandated needs to be met.
One of the problems is the low pay local corrections officers receive. In August, 2017, the basic pay-scale started at little over $24,000 a year. Many local corrections officers rely on food stamps, and it is hard to keep them in their jobs for more than a year. Needless to say, bad pay makes them more likely to take bribes and engage in other forms of corruption.
In spite of understaffing, officers still manage to physically assault and rape inmates with an alarming frequency.
Forceful Unnecessary Surgery at Huttonsville Correctional Center
Civil rights violations sometimes take an unexpected turn. This is what happened to Adrian F. King Jr. while he was being held at the Huttonsville Correctional Center. King had a set marble implants on his penis, which he had gotten several years before being incarcerated.
When he shared this information with a cellmate, his confidant immediately told guards about the implants. Shortly after, King was taken to a hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove the penile enhancements.
According to his allegations in a lawsuit, a guard had threatened to keep him in solitary until he agreed to the surgery in order to coerce him to authorize the procedure. A lawsuit is still pending in the case.
First Amendment Rights Violations Lawsuits vs WV Division of Corrections
In 2010, the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed a lawsuit alleging that the West Virginia Division of Corrections had banned at least one book, the “Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook,” without notifying its publisher, as legally required.
When some inmates ordered the book, DOC officials intercepted it, describing it in internal documents as “‘[material whose content could be detrimental to the security, good order, discipline of the facility or offender rehabilitative efforts or the safety or health of offenders, staff or others,’” the suit said.
This was not the first time West Virginia’s inmates had their First Amendment rights violated. The state’s failing DOC has faced countless lawsuits alleging similar violations over the years. A court ultimately declared the state’s book censorship unconstitutional.
Staff-on-Inmate Sexual Assault
According to state laws, any person employed by the Division of Corrections, working at any West Virginia correctional facility, employed by a state agency, or sheriff’s department “who engages in sexual intercourse, sexual intrusion or sexual contact with a person who is incarcerated in this state is guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be confined in a state correctional facility under the control of the Commissioner of Corrections for not less than one nor more than five years or fined not more than $5,000.”
In December, 2017, three female inmates filed a lawsuit accusing correctional officers of sexual abuse during their incarceration at the Work Release Centers in Huntington and Charleston and the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville. According to their allegations male officers sexually harassed and abused them repeatedly.
The lawsuits pointed to a “continuing practice and pattern of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation” against female inmates “at the hands of correctional staff,” while also accusing West Virginia’s Division of Corrections of “deliberate indifference.” The plaintiffs are currently seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
Worst Jails in West Virginia
South Central Jail: Infamous for the disastrous chemical spill scandal, when inmates were left to either dehydrate or poison themselves with contaminated water, South Central has been overcrowded for many years.
Described by many as “the worst in the state,” it is currently 50 percent over capacity and severely understaffed. It is not unusual for inmates to have to sleep on the floor for lack of bunks. Inmates waiting to be transferred to state facilities have very limited access to rehabilitation programs there, and they are only allowed one hour of recreation per day in a grim, concrete yard.
Understaffing has turned South Central into a no man’s land where the number of assaults is on the rise, because guards simply cannot control the jail’s ever-growing population.
Hazelton Penitentiary: This maximum security facility made headlines in April, 2018 when a recently incarcerated man was killed by another inmate during an altercation. At 1,370 inmates, it is largely overcrowded, and it has been the site of numerous civil rights violations.
Southern Regional: This is one of the worst West Virginia facilities in terms of systematic sexual misconduct by male officers. From forcing female inmates to expose themselves to exchanging cigarettes for sexual acts, this facility has seen guards engage in all manner of sexual misconduct. In 2012, former guard William Roy Wilson was arrested after being charged with four counts of “imposition of sexual acts of persons under supervision.”
Unexplained deaths are also common at Southern Regional, from suspicious suicides to deadly inmate-on-inmate assaults. Commenting on the death of one prisoner who was left to die in a holding tank at the facility, one activist commented that “the dogs at the animal shelter get better treatment than the inmates at South Regional in Beaver, W.V.”
West Virginia Jail Death and Abuse Lawsuits Lead to Large Settlements and System Reform
A favorable judgment or settlement can never bring back the loved ones you lost, but it can ensure that they have not died in vain. The stories that follow prove that, in spite of the horrors of a failing system, there is hope.
Our jail death and abuse attorneys have a track record of exposing abuse, neglect, and corruption at U.S. jails, maximizing compensation for victims and their families, and influencing policy.
Jail sexual misconduct accounts for a large portion of what West Virginia spends on court costs and settlements.
One of the most significant settlements was reached in the case of an inmate who filed a claim in September, 2007; the state paid $2 million on that occasion. Since then, things haven’t really changed, and West Virginia continues to spend millions of dollars every year, to settle jail sexual misconduct, inmate death, and abuse cases.
In 2015, the estate of Stephen Z. Yokosuk received a $460,000 settlement. Yokusuk died at the age of 21 while he was being held at Bluefield City Jail, in June, 2013. He had been arrested when he was found, passed out, in his car in a parking lot. Officers assumed he was intoxicated, arrested him, and did not seek medical evaluation. Yokosuk was found to be unresponsive by both police and his cellmates, but nobody checked on him during his first (and only) night in jail. In the morning, he was found dead in his cell.
The cause of death were blood clots “caused by him being in a state where he did not move for several hours.” The plaintiffs claimed he had been unreasonably seized, basically, just because he was sick in his car, and instead of providing medical attention, the police locked him up and left him alone to die.
In 2015, Michael Patrick Giambalvo prevailed over the Bureau of Prisons at trial. Giambalvo received $300,000 in his jail medical negligence case. In 2007, the plaintiff was being held at Hazelton Penitentiary, when he had to undergo surgery to remove an ingrown toenail. In violation of medical protocol, he was not tested for a common and severe infection, which viciously attacked his foot, and then his leg.
He was improperly diagnosed and denied treatment for years, as he was transferred from one correctional facility to another.
Giambalvo now lives with a chronic condition that requires him to use a wheelchair most of the time. According to court documents, “Giambalvo is primarily confined to using a wheelchair.... Using a cane, Giambalvo can walk very short distances with a pressurized boot that provides greater load reduction in the forefoot.... For the rest of his life Giambalvo will experience pain, restricted range of motion, loss of strength, and compromised mobility... [and he] will need lifelong medical attention and care.”
In 2016, the family of a deceased Eastern Regional Jail inmate received a $190,000 settlement. Donald W. Cline, a Kearneysville resident, had been found unresponsive at the jail after he was arrested for DUI in July, 2009. He overdosed on a combination of drugs, including prescribed methadone.
The victim was never seen by a physician, as required by law, when he was booked into the jail. The court was able to establish that he died as a result of medical neglect.
You Have a Limited Time to File an Inmate Death Lawsuit in West Virginia. Act Now to Maximize Compensation
In West Virginia, you generally have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, there are some circumstances under which different rules apply.
Our civil rights specialists and seasoned litigators can clarify what your options are, and tell you exactly how much time you have to file a claim. We have developed proven strategies to get to the bottom of any inmate death or abuse investigation.
Contact us now to maximize your chances of learning what truly happened, and secure the compensation you and your loved ones deserve. 866.836.4684 OR CONNECT ONLINE