Four men held in the Shawnee County Jail filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday asking for at least $1.5 million in damages against county jail director Elizabeth Gillespie and Shawnee County District Attorney Robert Hecht.
Topeka attorney Christopher Joseph filed the suit on behalf of Corey Robinson, Robert Cameron, James Hoskins and Jesus Arriolla. Joseph contends the four men were held longer than 48 hours without a preliminary hearing and should have been released. Hoskins and Arriolla remained in jail Thursday, but
Robinson and Cameron had been released.
“This has been an on-going problem, and we have been considering filing this lawsuit for some time,” Joseph said Thursday. “Frankly, it’s time to fix this.”
To prevent a person from being indefinitely detained without being charged, an inmate has the right to file a civil action called writ of habeas corpus if he has been in custody for more than 48 hours and prosecutors haven’t filed charges.
A hearing regarding the case will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 4 in Judge Sam Crow’s chambers at the federal courthouse in Topeka.
Joseph said Gillespie has been named in about 150 writ of habeas corpus filings this year.
“We want to see the district attorney’s office and the jail follow through with the release of people instead of continuing to point fingers at each other,” Joseph said.
Hecht contends the corrections department officials at some point need to make a decision to release a person if his office hasn’t been able to decide if it has a case. Gillespie and county counselor Rich Eckert say it isn’t the job of the jail to decide who should be released.
When interviewed Thursday he said that his office isn’t aware of all arrests because some people are at the jail for misdemeanors, such as shoplifting.
Hecht added that his office doesn’t always receive police reports within 48 hours, making it difficult to charge a person.
“Our office does e-mail the jail to inform their staff if we will or will not be filing charges against a person,” he said.
Sending notices to the jail is standard practice for assistant district attorney Cindy Long, said Hecht. Joseph said he has evidence that shows otherwise and Eckert, who represents Gillespie and the jail, claims the jail receives no communication from the district attorney’s office.
Eckert said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit.
“This was just a matter of time,” he said. “But this situation clearly was not the making of the jail or Ms. Gillespie. In my own opinion, this is a dog fight between the criminal defense bar and district attorney’s office, and we’ve been roped into it.”
Eckert argues that the jail has to take in all people arrested by local law enforcement.
“We have to take them with no discretion,” he said. “I don’t think we have the discretion to willy-nilly be letting people go.”
Eckert said if the jail releases people after 48 hours, a witness or spouse will eventually get hurt and that will result in a victim filing a lawsuit against the county.
“So from where I’m sitting we’re going to get sued either way,” he said. “We’re going to get sued by a victim or we’re going to get sued by an inmate. And I’ll tell you which lawsuit I’ll take every time — I’ll take the inmate.”
Regardless, Joseph said he believes jail staff should keep track of when people arrive and the time they have spent at the jail. Once the 48 hours is complete, people should be released.
“This case is based on constitutional rights,” Joseph said. “These people have the right to be released and should be released if they haven’t been charged in the 48 hour time period.”
© Copyright 2003 Morris Digital Works and The Topeka Capital-Journal.
By Alicia Henrikson
THE TOPEKA CAPITAL-JOURNAL