Garfield settles ACLU suit over jail operations

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office has settled a 5-year-old lawsuit in which the American Civil Liberties Union had accused it of inmate abuses including inappropriate use of force.

The Sheriff’s Office in a news release described the settlement as being “very favorable,” and one that would save the county considerable money.

The suit was filed in 2006 by four inmates: Samuel Lincoln, Clarence Vandehey, William Langley and Jared Hogue. Lincoln has been sentenced to hundreds of years in prison for a Glenwood Springs attempted murder conviction and for shooting at Mesa County sheriff’s deputies and trying to kill someone in the desert near Grand Junction.

The suit accused the sheriff’s office of inappropriate use of restraint chairs, pepper spray and other forceful measures, denial of mental health care to indigent inmates, and imposition of harsh discipline without due process. A federal judge had certified it as a class action suit, but an appeals court overturned that decision.

The sheriff’s office said the settlement required the jail to make minor changes to internal reporting forms and affirm practices it already implemented voluntarily well before the settlement. Sheriff Lou Vallario has said the jail now typically lets uncooperative inmates cool off rather than immediately using force to extract them from cells, has added padded cells for use in lieu of restraint chairs, has boosted mental health care, and has changed the jail disciplinary process to give inmates the right to be heard and appeal decisions.

Under the settlement, the county reimbursed the ACLU $69,200 for its litigation costs, but otherwise each party will bear its own attorney fees and other costs. The sheriff’s office said the legal fees for three large firms heading the inmates’ litigation ranged from $700,000 to $1 million.

“We have made changes and improved upon the jail operations each year while maintaining fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers,” Vallario said in today’s release. “The way our deputies and staff delivered services withstood the scrutiny of the small army of lawyers and experts that the ACLU recruited to find fault with the jail.”


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