Walworth County, commissioners face federal lawsuit over jail conditions

SELBY, S.D. (By Elisa Sand esand@aberdeennews.com) – Walworth County and its commissioners have been sued, and the lawsuit claims they continue to operate the county jail while knowing it is an unsafe environment.

Rapid City attorney James Leach filed the civil suit on behalf of seven defendants — 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. The federal case will be presided over by Judge Charles B. Kornmann in Aberdeen.

The lawsuit seeks an expedited hearing to certify the seven plaintiffs as a class and consideration of an expedited hearing for a preliminary injunction. None of the defendants have been convicted of a crime, according to court paperwork.

“Because it is a class action (lawsuit), the plaintiffs are all pretrial detainees who are in the jail now, or who will be before the lawsuit is over,” Leach said.

The injunction would prevent the county from holding people at the Walworth County Jail in Selby if they have not been convicted of a crime. That means people awaiting court hearings or a trial would have to be held elsewhere.

The 30-page document outlining the reasons for the lawsuit highlights ongoing discussion about the Walworth County Jail that began as far back as August 2013. That’s when Walworth County commissioners first met with Jim Rowenhorst, a correctional consultant who told the board the jail lacked bed space, was not secure and was understaffed. The consultant also advised commissioners that lack of funding was not a reason for not addressing these issues.

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