, Corbin, KY

July 28, 2007

Inmates file suit against Laurel Co. Detention Center

By Fred Petke/Staff Writer

Four county inmates filed a class action lawsuit against the Laurel County Detention Center, claiming the staff did nothing to prevent infectious diseases from spreading among the population.

The suit, filed this week in U.S. District Court, claims the inmates contracted staph infections and scabies from other prisoners and that jail staff failed to treat prisoners’ symptoms. It also claims jail staff did not disinfect prisoners’ clothes, bedding or cells.

“... Numerous inmates of the jail have been infected with infectious diseases ... as a consequence of defendants’ abject failure to protect such inmates,” the suit claims.

The suit was filed against Laurel County Jailer Jack Sizemore, jail nurse Betty McKnight, Laurel County and unknown jail or medical staff. Sizemore was not at the jail Friday, according to staff members.

Laurel County Judge-Executive Lawrence Kuhl said Friday morning he had not been served with the suit yet, but was aware of its existence.

“We’ve not been served with anything at the county yet and I can’t comment on anything,” Kuhl said. A hearing before U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell has not been scheduled yet.

The suit was filed by Courtney McQueen, Larry Cunnagin, Evelyn Rose and James Mounts, who say they were prisoners in the county jail for various offenses. The suit said they contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, during their stay in the jail. The disease, according to the suit, was a penicillin-resistant strain which can become “chronic, painful and disfiguring.”

They said the staff “routinely dismisses the symptoms of plaintiffs’ diseases and refuses to treat inmates.” They also claim the jail is overcrowded, unclean and unsanitary.

Earlier this month, county officials received an inspection report from the Kentucky Department of Correction which included a number of problems, including overcrowding. According to the report, the 264-bed jail often houses more than 300 prisoners. Some prisoners are housed in the facility’s drunk tank or in low security areas.

Inspectors said the jail was dirty and cluttered with excess property in cells, showers and hygiene areas as well as air ducts blocked with toilet paper. Prisoners also do not have access to alcohol or drug treatment programs.

Kuhl said previously the county is working to build a new jail and that overcrowding is a problem statewide.

Fred Petke can be reached at fpetke@thetimes