By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A group of Platte County Detention Center inmates is suing the jail, the county, and its commissioners, claiming some of their confidential mail was opened in violation of their constitutional rights.
The inmates are seeking more than $2 million in damages for the jail’s adoption of a policy under which they said mail to and from them from various courts was opened and scanned into a computer system.
“The plaintiffs have a constitutional right to communicate with the court freely and unobstructed,” said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District court on Friday. “Defendants’ conduct of inspecting and reading both incoming and outgoing court mail outside of plaintiffs’ presence creates a chilling effect and is a violation of plaintiffs’ rights.”
The lawsuit was originally filed in state district court by David Jackson-Mackay, Arthur Penrod, Tyler McCurdy, Austin Anderson and Preston Wisenbaker, all identified as inmates at the jail when the policy was adopted.
According to the lawsuit, until mid-February, mail to and from inmates from local, state, tribal and federal courts was treated as “legal mail” and given to inmates without being opened.
After Feb. 23, however, the policy was changed and mail from courts was opened and scanned into the computer system. The mail includes pleadings, worksheets and related documents, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said the inmates were told that the detention center would no longer consider mail to and from courts “legal mail” and would handle the mail as it did any other piece of mail.
The policy violates the inmates constitutionally guaranteed rights to Freedom of Speech, to protection as criminal defendants and to equal protection of the law.
The lawsuit names as defendants Platte County Sheriff Clyde Harris, two Platte County Detention Center officers, Platte County itself, its commissioners, sheriff’s department and detention center and asks for damages of $300,000 from each.