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Yet another lawsuit involving a state jail was filed in federal court earlier this month. The complaint from former inmate Nicole Henry named the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations and unidentified Southern Regional Jail guards as defendants. It said a female gang known as the “A-8 Gladiators” severely beat Henry while she was incarcerated, along with numerous other prisoners.
Henry’s attorney, Steve New from Beckley, said that jail administrators and guards did not just permit the gang to freely inflict terror and violence, but would direct certain prisoners to section “A-8.”
“Women who those guards, for whatever reason, didn’t like or wanted to see something bad happen to them,” New said.
The complaint says Henry was beaten twice and suffered “serious and permanent injuries.”
“John/Jane Doe Correctional Officers failed to ensure plaintiff’s cell was properly locked and secure at appropriate times, ignored plaintiff’s attempts to receive help, failed to intervene in the beating, failed to separate the gang following the beating and failed to take plaintiff to the medical unit following the beating,” the lawsuit said.
New said there are up to a dozen more lawsuits coming from other inmates alleging they were beaten and terrorized by the “A-8 Gladiators.”
He said these cases, along with several others alleging overcrowded and unsanitary jail conditions – including the lawsuit calling for a special legislative session, that demanded the state spend $330 million for deferred maintenance and worker vacancies in state corrections – all dovetail into the state’s long running jail emergency crisis.
“Just imagine having upwards of 50 or 60 people in a space designed for 32,” New said. “Then you have the issues with the horrible conditions and lack of running water in the cells, the lack of operable toilets, the lack of operable showers, and it just creates a powder keg.”
In his media briefing on Friday, Gov. Jim Justice said the state has an obligation to fix the jail and prison problems.
“We still are in a state of emergency in regard to this,” Justice said. “I’m confident now that we’ve gotten everybody’s attention, we’ll get there with stuff that will make real progress.”
New said the Corrections funding legislated in the August special session offers promise.
“The interim in August did about half of what was needed in terms of the $270 million, deferred maintenance and the money needed to fully staff the jails with corrections officers and other personnel,” New said. “Hopefully the legislature will see to it to get all of this finished.”