CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A lawsuit filed by inmates who described conditions at a southern West Virginia jail as inhumane has been settled, a federal judge said Tuesday, a week after a magistrate judge said some records in the suit had been intentionally destroyed.
U.S. District Judge Frank Volk said in a court filing that the plaintiffs and defendants “have reached a resolution of this matter.” The filing said the parties believe a limited class-action settlement fund must be formulated. Volk scheduled a status conference for Thursday.
The lawsuit filed last year on behalf of current and former inmates of the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver referenced a lack of access to water and food at the facility, as well as overcrowding and fights that were allowed to continue until someone was injured.
The lawsuit named Betsy Jividen, the state corrections commissioner who resigned in August 2022; State Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeff Sandy, who retired in July; Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation Executive Officer Brad Douglas, who was fired last week; assistant corrections commissioner William Marshall, who has since been appointed commissioner; and former Southern Regional Jail superintendent Mike Francis.
Douglas and Homeland Security Chief Counsel Phil Sword were fired last week after a federal magistrate judge cited the “intentional” destruction of records in recommending a default judgment in the lawsuit. That followed a hearing in early October in which former and current corrections officials, including some defendants in the lawsuit, said no steps had been taken to preserve evidence at the jail, including emails and documents.
The email accounts of Jividen, Francis and others were removed after they left their jobs, according to testimony at the hearing.
Brian Abraham, the chief of staff for Republican Gov. Jim Justice, had said no one in the administration sought to have emails deleted in any agency. Abraham blamed an attorney he did not name who was aware of the litigation, saying that person could have stopped the deletions and “failed to do so.”
Justice has said Homeland Security told him an investigation he ordered into conditions at the jail found no evidence of inhumane treatment. News outlets have reported there were more than a dozen deaths at the Southern Regional Jail last year.
Volk, the federal judge, said the lawsuit’s resolution does not include other parties, including two medical providers and seven county commissions that house inmates at the jail.