Federal investigation underway at Southern Regional Jail

Federal investigation underway at Southern Regional Jail
Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 1:12 PM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - There were several new developments regarding a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of correctional officers and inmates at Southern Regional Jail (SRJ) on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Dept. of Homeland Security confirmed the jail is now under federal investigation, releasing the following statement on Tuesday:

“Since March of 2022, the Southern Regional Jail (SRJ) has been the subject of many questions and concerns. Thus, the agency has been subject to multiple reviews, some of which are ongoing. The federal government is in the process of investigating the facility, and the integrity of that investigation is of the utmost importance to the WV Department of Homeland Security.”

It also read “Our department is committed to holding bad actors accountable, and will continue to cooperate with the federal government to uphold and improve the safety and security of our facilities.”

Meanwhile, attorneys on behalf of inmates and correctional officers in the civil suit made an amendment to their filing on Friday. The amendment takes specific aim at the Dept. of Homeland Security, calling their investigation into the jail “a sham.” Gov. Jim Justice, (R) West Virginia, called for the investigation in response to WVVA’s reports regarding inmates being denied water.

In the latest update, New said both inmates and correctional officers claim inmates were not only handpicked for the DHS investigation, but bribed with better accommodations to give good reviews and threatened with punishment if they gave bad ones.

“We don’t have any evidence of it going further than Sandy, but the problem is -- at high levels of state government, there were attempts to downplay this at best, if not, cover it up.”

Calvin Mitchell’s girlfriend, Katie Dunford, was among the first inmates to claim water was being denied days at a time. In an interview with WVVA News on Monday, Mitchell said he was in SRJ between December 2021 and April 2022, after being arrested on an Arson charge out of Mercer County.

During Mitchell’s stay, he reported staying in a number of cells, including ‘B-4.’ Through the internal memo leaked by a correctional officer as part of the suit, WVVA news was able to confirm ‘B-4′ was among the cells listed without water in November of 2021. Leaked internal email from Southern Regional Jail shows nearly 40 cells without water in November (wvva.com)

“It was really difficult. We only had the toilet. We had to clean the toilet to get water. After like two days, you obviously get really thirsty. They only give you a carton of juice for two meals if you’re lucky. Sometimes they have juice in a container, but if that runs out you don’t get any.”

Mitchell said conditions at the jail were staged prior to pictures being taken of each cell, a claim that is also made in the federal suit. He said inmates were given toilet paper, soap, and other supplies. The following day, he said pictures were taken inside the cell with the supplies. He claimed the pictures were taken the same week as the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) sweep.

“This is what really surprises me,” he said. “The CERT team did an investigation. One of the members of the CERT team did interview me directly and told me my story was consistent across the board among all the inmates. For them to report inaccurate findings makes no sense to me.”

Meanwhile, at a town hall regarding Amendment 2 in Princeton last Friday, Gov. Justice’s confidence in the April investigation appeared to have shifted.

“If you just let this play out, the truth will come out,” he said during the Princeton visit. “I’m not just going to go along.”

‘The truth will come out:’ Gov. Justice changes tune on SRJ probe (wvva.com)