Walworth County Commission votes to close jail

SELBY, S.D. (By Elisa Sand esand@aberdeennews.com) – A month after a lawsuit was filed in federal court questioning the safety of the Walworth County Jail in Selby, commissioners voted to close the facility.

At their meeting Tuesday, county commissioners agreed to add an emergency motion to their agenda following an executive session during which legal matters were discussed.

The motion was to permanently close the jail and remove all inmates within 30 days. It was approved unanimously.

“We’ll be totally empty within 30 days,” Walworth County State’s Attorney James Hare said.

Other counties that contract with Walworth County for inmate housing have been provided notice that Walworth will no longer accept their inmates, he said.

The commission also approved three contracts that will allow Walworth County inmates to be housed at the jails in Codington, Faulk and Roberts counties.

Details of the civil lawsuit emerged last week. The plaintiffs seek an expedited hearing for their certification as a class and a preliminary injunction that would prevent anyone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime from being held at the jail.

The lawsuit cites safety issues at the jail that were first brought to the commission’s attention in August 2013. And it highlights reports and discussion that continued through 2018 when voters rejected a bond issue placed on the ballot for construction of a new jail.

Rapid City attorney James Leach filed the civil suit on behalf of seven plaintiffs — Megan M. Agard, Chico Baker, Robert DeSersa, Kara J. Logg, Deborah Looking Back, Prairie Rose White Buffalo and Phillip Louis Young Hawk. They were inmates in the jail when the lawsuit was filed on Sept. 6, but none had been convicted of a crime.

In response to Tuesday’s decision by the commission, Leach said, the plaintiffs do not support the 30-day delay in closing the jail.

“Because of the fire hazards, the lack of fire escapes, and the other problems, the plaintiffs are not going to agree to 30 days. The commissioners have known about these problems for years and should have done this long ago.” Leach said.

The Walworth County commissioners listed as defendants are James Houck, Kevin Holgard, Scott Schilling, Marion Schlomer and Davis Martin. Walworth County is also listed as a defendant.

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