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The Lake News Online
  • Sheriff defends jail from ACLU lawsuit

  • Despite a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging otherwise, Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty said the Morgan County Adult Detention Center is not violating inmates' rights.
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  • Despite a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union alleging otherwise, Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty said the Morgan County Adult Detention Center is not violating inmates' rights.
    The ACLU of Eastern Missouri filed a lawsuit against Morgan County with the U.S. District Court of Western Missouri on July 16 alleging that county employees at the jail confiscated written materials sent to one of its inmates by Tara Ballenger. A resident of the state of Oregon, Ballenger is protesting that the materials she sent to a detainee in the Morgan County jail were confiscated, that she was not notified of the confiscation and that the rejected materials were not returned to her.
    The suit claims that written materials including letters, newspaper clippings, photocopies of newspaper and magazine clippings and books were confiscated unjustly. The alleged incidents of non-delivery took place June 1, June 5 and June 17, 2013.
    Citing 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the ACLU is seeking a temporary injunction to require the jail to "provide notice and an opportunity to be heard to the sender" when a decision is made to reject mailed material. The suit also requests a permanent injunction to require notification.
    Often called "section 1983," 42 U.S.C. § 1983 gives protection from "the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws" by persons working under the state.
    According to Petty, the materials sent by Ballenger that were confiscated by jail employees were not delivered because they were pornographic in nature.
    Inmates are not allowed to have this type of material or any type of inflammatory or disturbing articles that might incite rioting, he said, whether that's a Playboy magazine or a picture of a nude spouse.
    It is common to have to intercept improper materials and is a standard procedure for jails and prisons, he added. These confiscated materials are kept with prisoners' belongings and are all returned upon inmates' release.
    Petty said, as far as he is aware, there is no notification process at any jail when such materials are confiscated. He said he believes the law cited is not applicable to jails.
    While Petty spoke in defense of the jail, which operates under the Morgan County Sheriff's Office, neither he nor the jail or any jail employees were named in the lawsuit. Only Morgan County and County Clerk Cathy Daniels were named.
    To further complicate the matter, the inmate involved in the case was a U.S. Marshal's prisoner. The Morgan County jail contracts with federal agencies to hold their prisoners.
    The U.S. Attorney General and the U.S. Marshal's Office, however, were not named in the suit either.
    As a result, Petty said he is not sure that the suit has been filed properly.
    Page 2 of 2 - The ACLU also filed a motion to classify the lawsuit as class-action due to confiscation of mailings sent to the jail by other senders.
    The county has turned the case over to attorney Ivan Schrader.
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