JASPER, Ala. (CN) – The ACLU sued Fayette County Sheriff Rodney Ingle in Federal Court, challenging his “de facto ban” of ACLU attorneys responding to inmates’ complaints of constitutional violations at Ingle’s county jail.
The ACLU of Alabama and its legal director Allison Neal say they were investigating “serious violations of inmates’ constitutional rights at county jails across the state of Alabama” when they received correspondence from two inmates at the Fayette County jail regarding conditions there.
ACLU attorneys tried to meet with the inmates repeatedly between July 2010 and January this year, but each time were refused entry because they were “not on the regular inmate visitation list” or because the “schedule was full,” according to the complaint.
Nor would jail officers let the ACLU schedule appointments with inmates, the complaint states. It claims that jail Officer Matt McKay “refused to schedule a visit, stating that if inmates wanted to see an attorney other than their criminal defense attorney they would have to do it on their own time.”
The complaint does not elucidate what an incarcerated person’s “own time” might be.
Neal says she informed the jail of her intention to visit an inmate on a certain date for a “confidential visit,” but when she arrived, she was told the inmate had been transferred to another jail.
Neal and the ACLU say their letters and correspondence to Ingle about problems with access went unanswered.
“This lawsuit challenges on First Amendment grounds Ingle’s de facto ban of ACLU of Alabama legal staff from his jail. Plaintiffs seek emergency interim injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment, a permanent injunction, and attorney’s fees and expenses.”
The ACLU claims Ingle is violating the First Amendment by refusing to allow it proceed with its “investigation of requests for legal assistance, advising inmates of their constitutional rights, interviewing inmates to discuss the possibility of legal representation and discussion of possible litigation,”
Neal and the ACLU are represented by Henry Sherrod III, of Florence, Ala.