BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — The state of West Virginia has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates who described conditions at a jail as inhumane, an attorney for the plaintiffs said.
Attorney Stephen New disclosed the figure Thursday to U.S. District Judge Frank Volk, who must approve the settlement. New said the amount is the highest that the state’s insurance coverage will pay, news outlets reported.
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; then-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.
The money would be split among more than 9,000 inmates at the jail dating to September 2020. Attorneys for the defendants did not object to the settlement in court. West Virginia Homeland Security Secretary Mark Sorsaia said in a statement that the settlement “represents the most favorable outcome for our state.”
The settlement does not include other parties, including two medical providers and seven county commissions that house inmates at the jail.
The administration of Gov. Jim Justice fired Douglas and Homeland Security Chief Counsel Phil Sword 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 October hearing.
Brian Abraham, Justice’s chief of staff, had said no one in the administration sought to have emails deleted in any agency. Justice has said Homeland Security told him an investigation he ordered into conditions at the jail found no evidence of inhumane treatment.
Earlier this week, the Justice administration said it is conducting a separate internal investigation to determine whether other state employees were involved in the failure to produce records.
News outlets have reported there were more than a dozen deaths at the Southern Regional Jail last year.