Lawsuit: West Virginia jail correctional officers failed to stop gang from beating inmate
A lawsuit alleges jail correctional officers failed to stop gang from beating inmate in Southern Regional Jail in Beaver, W.Va. (Darrin Klimek | Getty Images)
Correctional officers at a West Virginia jail failed to prevent members of a gang from beating another prisoner, leaving the woman with “serious and permanent physical injuries,” a lawsuit filed this month in federal court alleges.
Nicole Henry, who was an inmate at the Southern Regional Jail in Raleigh County, filed the lawsuit against the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the unidentified correctional officers Oct. 2 in United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
According to the complaint, while Henry was incarcerated at Southern Regional Jail, she was housed in the Quarantine and A-8 pods of the jail, which also housed the “A-8 Gladiators,” a gang of female inmates who, according to the complaint, inflicted violence and injury on numerous other prisoners.
On Sept. 21, 2021 and again on Nov. 1, 2021, the A-8 gladiators violently beat Henry, who suffered “serious and permanent injuries,” the complaint says.
“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 says.Nicole Henry
The lawsuit alleges the guards and the Division violated Henry’s rights under the Eighth Amendment of the constitution to be “free from cruel and unusual punishment and the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.” It also alleges conspiracy to commit Eighth Amendment violations, failure to intervene/bystander liability, negligence, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other charges.
Henry is represented by attorneys Tim Lupardus, Stephen New and Zachary Whitten. Whitten said since Henry was released, she is seeking a degree in criminal justice and hopes to be a paralegal.
The lawyers also represent defendants in a federal lawsuit filed in August against Gov. Jim Justice and state Homeland Security Cabinet Secretary Mark Sorsaia that seeks to require the state to fix overcrowding, understaffing and deferred maintenance at correctional facilities across the state.
Justice declared a state of emergency last year because of staffing levels in facilities that are over capacity. More than 300 members of the West Virginia National Guard were still working in correctional facilities to fill the vacancies as of August
Justice also declared a state of emergency over the correctional facilities in 2017. After a special legislative session in August, lawmakers signed off on a number of bills meant to address the problem, including pay raises and bonuses for correctional officers and non-uniformed staff.
Reached Wednesday, New and Whitten said the cases are connected because overcrowding and understaffing are at the root of problems at Southern Regional Jail.
“We are of the opinion that all these issues are tied together,” New said. “The last time that the Southern Regional Jail was below capacity was 2005 in terms of inmate count. So for almost two decades, the Southern Regional Jail has been overcrowded.”
According to the 2022 annual report for the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Southern Regional Jail housed 557 inmates. According to a 2018 DCR annual report, the facility was originally designed to house 304 inmates, but additional bunks have been added due to “growing inmate population,” increasing capacity to 584.
“[Overcrowding and understaffing] are the big things that lead to something like this happening,” Whitten said. “…. If you’re understaffed and overcrowded, that doesn’t give you an out to just skirt on your duties.”
When jails are overcrowded and understaffed “all of that tied together is just a recipe for disaster,” New said.
“What we see with the Nicole Henry case is consistent with what we see in a number of other cases,” New said. The attorneys plan to file eight to 10 other lawsuits against the jail over allowing a gang to operate in the female section of the facility, he said.
“Based on our investigation, the guards there encouraged this gang activity, the guards there encouraged inmate on inmate violence to try to maintain some type of order,” New said. “And it was a really dangerous, really bad situation for a long time.”
A spokesman for the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation said the agency does not comment on pending legal matters.
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