Showing posts with label American Civil Liberties Union. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Civil Liberties Union. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Virginia ACLU Seeks Federal Investigation Of Richmond Jail

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The American Civil Liberties Union asked the federal government to investigate conditions at the Richmond City Jail, where two inmates have died during a heat wave that has sent temperatures inside the overcrowded lockup soaring into triple digits.

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, requested the investigation Tuesday in a letter to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We believe that these deaths are symptomatic of ongoing unconstitutionally harsh conditions at the jail," Willis wrote.

The jail lacks air conditioning, and Willis pointed to an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last week in which Sheriff C.T. Woody said temperatures inside can reach as high as 120 when it's 100 outside. Woody made the remark in discussing the June 26 heat-exposure death of inmate Grant R. Sleeper, 54.

Another prisoner, 49-year-old Kerry Wayne Bennett, was found dead in his bunk June 30. The cause of Bennett's death has not been determined.

"We believe that the conditions at the Richmond City Jail pose a persistent threat to the health and safety of inmates, as illustrated by the two recent deaths," Willis wrote. "Periodic proposals to improve or replace the jail have repeatedly come to naught. The situation at the jail requires federal intervention."

The sheriff's office had no comment on the letter, Col. Walter Allmon said.

Willis said in a telephone interview that the Justice Department, unlike an individual or a group like the ACLU, has the power to file a lawsuit claiming constitutional rights are being violated without having a specific plaintiff.

"Our first step is to see if the Justice Department is willing to do this," Willis said. "They have the resources and the ability."

Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar confirmed receipt of the letter. "We will review the request to determine what action, if any, is appropriate," he said.

If the department declines to intervene, Willis said, the ACLU will consider alternatives including filing a lawsuit on behalf of an aggrieved inmate. Willis said his organization has received more than 50 complaints about conditions at the jail in the last five years.

"It's been overcrowded for as long as I can remember," Willis said. "Right now we have overcrowding exacerbated by heat."

The jail, built in the 1960s, typically exceeds its 850-inmate capacity by several hundred. And last month was the hottest June on record in Richmond, with high temperatures of at least 95 on 11 days and at least 100 on three days. The heat wave has carried over into July, with highs expected in the upper 90s this week.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Crisfield Election Investigated

CRISFIELD -- The U.S. Justice Department is expected to begin its own investigation into the recent Crisfield election following allegations that improper and illegal voting procedures may have been used.

The ACLU of Maryland has started its own probe into the matter, and a representative met with as many as 20 concerned residents last week in Crisfield, said Deborah Jeon, an attorney for the civil rights group.

Jeon said city elections officials turned away a number of potential voters without giving them provisional ballots.

It wasn't until late in the afternoon that provisional ballots were given to people whose names could not be immediately verified as being registered voters, she said.

Jeon said, at this point, she is unsure of the number of people who were turned away.

"We're still in the process of investigating," she said.

Within days of the June 16 election, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed a number of alleged irregularities, including unlawful voter identification requirements and the failure to offer rejected voters a provisional ballot, which the group said appeared to have disproportionately affected African-American voters.

The ACLU said it was acting on behalf of mayoral candidate James Lane and several African-American voters.

Lane, who lost the election to incumbent Percy Purnell, said he knows people who were turned away or who witnessed improprieties.

"We feel very strongly there are some very serious problems," he said.

Robin Cockey, the city's attorney, said he was unaware the Justice Department planned to launch an investigation.

"That's interesting and surprising," he said. "I didn't know the ACLU thought this was still a viable issue."

Cockey said he is still in the process of conducting his own investigation, but believes the ACLU's allegations are unfounded.

When city elections officials could not find names on their lists, they called the county election office in Princess Anne for verification. Those who were registered were allowed to vote, but those who were unregistered were turned away, he said.

After the county office closed, city poll workers gave out provisional ballots to people whose names were not on the list.

"The bottom line is, anyone who was registered to vote and who wanted to vote was able to vote," he said.

This week, city elections officials verified and opened the remaining 17 provisional ballots filed during the election.

While all 17 were verified to be registered voters, one ballot was left blank, said Joyce Morgan, the city's clerk-treasurer, who was present along with election board members when the ballots were opened Wednesday.

Candidates in the election were notified that the ballots would be opened Wednesday, but none showed up, Morgan said.

With the opening of the provisional ballots, all of the candidates, except one, picked up additional votes.

In the mayor's race, incumbent Percy Purnell received 5 votes and challenger James Lane, 11.

Votes cast for City Council were Raymond Anderson, 5; Barry Dize, 4; Robert Hooks, 2; Jordan Joyner, 4; Kim Lawson, 5; Carolyn Marquis, 4; Greg Sterling, 3; and Pamela Whittington, 10.

Three incumbent City Council members --Raymond Anderson, Barry Dize and Kim Lawson, who were elected with Purnell in 2006 as part of the Clean Sweep Team --were the winners for their at-large seats.

Purnell, Anderson, Dize and Lawson are scheduled to be sworn-in for their second terms July 12.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sex Offender Says He Should Be Able To Attend Church

A convicted sex offender took his fight to attend church to the state Supreme Court on Wednesday.

A lower court told Jonathan Perfetto that he couldn't go to church because his suspended sentence prohibits him from being around children. Perfetto was convicted in 2002 of possessing 61 images of child pornography.

Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire American Civil Liberties Union told the court that Perfetto, a Jehovah's Witness, has a fundamental right to go to the church of his choice and should be permitted to be around the children of the congregation as long as he has a chaperone.

But Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Cort argued that using a chaperone is unrealistic.

"It would be too dangerous and unrealistic to expect a single person to be able to keep an eye on him every minute of every meeting every week," Cort said.

The justices seemed concerned about setting a precedent of making specific exceptions to the conditions of release for convicts and challenged the notion that the condition of having no contact with children is overly restrictive.

"Maybe the least restrictive is you can study at home," said Chief Justice John Broderick. "You can have someone come to the house. You can deal with the elders of the church or go to services without children."

Keshen argued that the conditions should be tailored based on specific facts about Perfetto and the church. She said the lower court didn't hold a hearing on those issues before denying his request in August.

"The real facts are who is the person now?" Keshen said. "What is the likelihood that he will reoffend? What is the actual danger to any child, and what is this church like?"

The state Supreme Court typically hands down decisions within 90 days. Legal experts said that in this case, the court could order a lower court to hold a hearing to consider evidence from both sides.