Federal lawsuit challenges county detention system

Twyla Carter, of the ACLU, outlines details of the organization’s federal lawsuit against the Canadian County pretrial detention system. She spoke at a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol. Photo / Chris Eversole

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma announced Wednesday it has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Canadian County pretrial detention system, which it claims unconstitutionally jails hundreds of prisoners annually.
“The pretrial jailing of innocent people in Canadian County is a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” state ACLU Director Ryan Kiesel said at a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other organizations joined the ACLU at the event.
The case, filed Tuesday in the federal district court, has national implications because many of the practices in Canadian County are common around the country, said ACLU officials.
It is the first lawsuit of its kind nationally claiming the county’s approach fails to adequately protect people covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ACLU said.
ACLU attorneys visited nine Oklahoma counties in researching the case.
“The problems are not isolated to a single county,” Kiesel said.
The organization represents seven inmates in the Canadian County jail who have not been able to make bail.
Eighty percent of the inmates in county jails are there because they could not make bail, Kiesel said.
They have been arrested but not convicted and are presumed innocent, he said.
Twyla Carter, ACLU’s lead attorney, outlined details of the case.
“If someone can afford bail, they can buy freedom,” she said. “If not, they stay in jail.”
The county’s system is especially hard on people with disabilities, especially ones who are unable to obtain needed medications while in jail, the suit claims.
The ACLU said it chose Canadian County because it is the fifth largest county by population in the state and jails 4,000 people a year, yet it operates its court system in a fashion typical of rural counties.
“It (the pretrial system) is much, much worse in rural counties,” Carter said.
Part of the problem is that Canadian County, like other rural counties, doesn’t have a public defender’s office, she said.
The issues the ACLU with the system include:
Defendants are interviewed by a judge via an “antiquated” video system that is not a public procedure for only one or two minutes, and no attorney representing them is present;
Because of the video hookup, they are not able to have an attorney at their side to confer with.
They are told that if they have money for bond, they are not eligible for a free attorney.
Making free legal representation for people who can’t afford an attorney contingent on not making bail is “wrong and unconstitutional,” Carter said.
“If you can bond out, you’re presumed to be able to afford an attorney,” she said.
“This has a chilling effect on getting representation.”
NAACP State President Anthony R. Douglas described his organization position.
“We want to make sure that justice is served,” he said.
Zoe Brennan-Krohn, a disability rights attorney with the ACLU, noted that half the people in jail are covered under the ADA.
They include people with PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia.
“They cannot get their medicines or see their doctors, counselors and families,” she claimed.
The court system should do more to take people’s disabilities into consideration, she said.
Kiesel called Canadian County’s system Orwellian, referring to the injustices portrayed in George Orwell’s novel “1984.”
He asked Canadian County officials to rethink what they are doing.
“What sort of justice do you think you’re providing to citizens?” he asked that the officials consider.
Named in the lawsuit are Canadian County district judges Paul Hesse and Jack McCurdy, as well as special judges Barbara Hatfield, Charles Gass and Khristan Strubhar.
All are listed in their official capacities.
The plaintiffs include Misty White, Jermaine Bradford, Janara Musgrave, Landon Proudett, Bradley Barber Jr. and Dakota Kappus.
Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse responded to the lawsuit by stating that Canadian County judges follow “regular procedures and administrative orders that are designed to protect the rights of all arrestees and accused.”
Hesse also said the lawsuit does not fully or accurately describe the bail procedures that exist in the county.
He claimed many the assertions were “patently false.”
According to the judge, a number of bail reform measures were enacted in 2018 that have resulted in a significant decline in the jail’s population, and the routine release of inmates on personal recognizance.
“A review by the federal court of the bail procedures in Canadian County is welcomed,” Hess said.

1 Comment

  1. Mike Labadie on December 11, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    This does not surprise me at all. I am a current law enforcement officer and have been for 20+ years. I have no faith in the court system in Canadian county and have personally experienced these judges doing whatever they want and choosing not to follow state law or federal law. I have filed numerous court documents stating such, and nobody in that county cares. This includes Judge Hess. I fear for anybody who is arrested and charged in Canadian county and yes that includes people who are in a part of my jurisdiction which includes parts of Canadian county.

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