Oklahoma County Jail Inmates Sue Over Faulty Locks

Saturday, August 28th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The locks at the Oklahoma County Jail have
given way to inmates before, but now they have resulted in a
lawsuit from two inmates who say the faulty locks opened up the
opportunity for them to be beaten in their cell.

Cellmates James Easter, 53, and Jimmy L. Hinds, 33, have filed a
$6 million federal civil rights lawsuit claiming inmates broke out
of their cells, broke into theirs and beat them.

Fifty-three stitches now track across Easter's forehead due to
an attacker hitting him with a food tray, said Carson L. Carter
III, the inmates' attorney. Carter said that plastic surgery will
be required.

Nerve and muscle damage from the beating may hinder Hinds from
using his right hand, Carter said.

The jail's faulty locks, which are now being replaced, allowed
about 15 prisoners to break out of their cells Aug. 13, the day of
the beating, Carter said.

The inmates' lawsuit alleges that Oklahoma County Sheriff John
Whetsel deprived them of their right to be safe in custody among
other claims. Each is asking for $3 million in damages, $1.5
million each for civil rights violations and $1.5 million each for
permanent disfigurements.

"Of all places where there ought to be law, it ought to be
jail," Carter said. "That's the one place he can guarantee
there'll be law."

Whetsel declined to comment on the lawsuit.

About 500 cell locks have been replaced, with an equal number
waiting to be repaired, said jail spokesman Lt. Rickey Barrow.

Easter and Hinds, both of Oklahoma City, are in custody on
complaints of manufacturing methamphetamine and possessing
chemicals used to make the drug.

Jail operations and a guard shortage at the jail have been under
scrutiny since July 7 when the U.S. Marshals Service moved more
than 100 of its prisoners to a private prison.

The mass removal was a result of numerous "well-documented"
complaints from prisoners, said Joseph T. Frey, acting assistant
director of the agency's prisoner services division.