On May 19, 2004, inmates at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. The plaintiffs sued Fulton County and the Georgia Department of Corrections under 42 U.S.C. §1983 challenging the conditions of their confinement under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The class action suit, brought on behalf of inmates who were currently or would be incarcerated in the future at the Fulton County Jail facilities in Atlanta, sought compensatory and punitive damages along with declaratory and injunctive relief. The complaint alleged that the inmates were confined in unconstitutional living conditions due to an excessive number of inmates in the jail, an inadequate number of detention officers to ensure their safety, the breakdown of the ventilation, plumbing and laundry systems, and other circumstances. The plaintiff class was represented by the Southern Center for Human Rights and additional private counsel.
The conditions at the jail were described in a report of Dr. Robert Griefinger dated May 31, 2004. Dr. Greifinger was a consultant with regard to health care at the jail, initially for the United States District Court and then for Fulton County.
The parties agreed that Dr. Greifinger's report accurately described the conditions at the jail. Pursuant to the Consent Order of the District Court (Judge Marvin H. Shoob) on July 7, 2004, the parties agreed to the appointment of a Receiver by the Court. On July 14, the Court appointed a Receiver to take charge of the jail.
On December 21, 2005, the Court entered a Consent Order which provided the terms and conditions necessary to ensure constitutional compliance by the jail. The terms of the Consent Order set minimum staffing levels, staff training procedures, inmate population limits, inmate processing requirements and other inmate housing requirements. The Consent Order also covered inmate visitation, medical care (including prescription medication, mental health care and dental care requirements), inmates with physical disabilities, safety and emergency procedures and inmate grievance procedures. The Consent Order also appointed a Court Monitor.
In December 2005, Georgia Public Defenders challenged the transfer of inmates at the jail to distant locations in a separate case filed originally in state court: Georgia Public Defender Standards Council v. Freeman, 1:05-cv-03286-MHS (N.D. Ga) (JC-GA-0024
in this Clearinghouse). That case was removed to federal court where a separate Consent Order was entered on February 28, 2006, after it was consolidated with the this case (Harper v. Bennett).
The Court Monitor filed his First Quarterly Report on May 15, 2006. After the Monitor's Fourth Quarterly Report, the plaintiffs filed a Memorandum on Compliance on June 22, 2007. In the Memorandum, the plaintiffs commended the Sheriff and the County for the progress that had been achieved in many areas covered by the Consent Order. However, the plaintiffs stated that in some areas, especially in areas related to the safety and security of inmates and staff, full compliance with the Order had not been achieved.
After the Seventh Quarterly Report, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause on July 10, 2008. The Court mentioned that nearly two-and-a-half years after the Consent Order, the Sheriff was still not in compliance with many of its mandates, including requirements in such critical areas as staffing and security, population limits and housing, provision of medical services, and timely release of inmates. The Court ordered that the Sheriff appear in Court and show cause why he should not be held in contempt.
On August 22, 2008, the Sheriff filed a Status Report Pursuant to Court Order. In his Report, the Sheriff Freeman acknowledged his failure to comply with the Consent Order in the critical areas of jail staffing and population. However, the Sheriff contended that his efforts have been hampered by Fulton County's failure to authorize funding for all the staff positions needed and for outsourcing pretrial inmates to other jails. Fulton County denied any lack of adequate funding. On January 26, 2009, the Court issued an Order concerning the County's decision to cut the Sheriff's FY09 budget, stating that if the necessary funding was not provided, the County defendants might be held in contempt.
On January 4, 2010, the Sheriff filed a Status Report Pursuant to Court Order describing the steps he was taking to eliminate inmate outsourcing and to provide adequate space for all Fulton County inmates.
The monitor continued to file quarterly reports.
On January 29, 2013, the Court denied the defendant's motion for prospective relief on the grounds that the jail had yet to address two pressing issues within the jail: the understaffing and the malfunctioning locks. And stated that prospective relief remains necessary to correct a current and ongoing violation of plaintiffs' federal rights, extends no further than necessary to correct the violation.
On October 10, 2013, the plaintiffs filed a class motion for the defendants to show cause why they should not be held in contempt. The motion supported this point by discussing how the appointed monitor, Mr. Calvin Lightfoot, plainly stated in his reports to the Court that the defendants have violated the Consent Order by forcing detainees to sleep on the floor of their housing units, by failing to staff all mandated posts in the Jail, and by continuing to detain people in cells whose locks are broken or compromised. The plaintiffs sought an order imposing monetary sanctions until compliance with the Consent Order was achieved, and requiring the defendants to submit a plan to the Court to bring themselves into compliance with the Consent Order.
On November 25, 2013, the court granted the plaintiffs' motion that the defendants must show cause as to why they should not be held in contempt. The court found that the defendants were clearly in violation of the Consent Decree as overcrowding, understaffing, and poor facility maintenance continued to be the norm at the jail. A show cause hearing was to be scheduled for the near future, wherein the Chairman of the Fulton County Commission and the Sheriff of Fulton County will be required to attend the hearing in person.
On February 3, 2014, the parties filed a joint motion to remove the show cause hearing from the calendar and decided to hold a status conference in its place. This joint motion was granted in an order on February 4, 2014.
On May 12, 2015, the Court issued an order granting the defendants' motion that all prospective relief be terminated. Based on the evidence of the jail conditions presented by the defendants and the testimony of the Court Monitor the Court found that the defendants were in compliance with the Consent Decree. Based upon the evidentiary record, the Court could not find that there were current and ongoing violations of the plaintiffs’ federal rights. As such the civil case against the defendants was terminated. Xin Chen - 01/21/2012
Erin Pamukcu - 03/28/2016