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Jury Returns Verdict in Favor of the District of Columbia in Alleged Over-Detention Case

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jury Returns Verdict in Favor of the District of Columbia in Alleged Over-Detention Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan today announced that a federal court jury has returned a verdict for the District, finding it not liable for the over-detention of inmates released from the D.C. Jail from January 1, 2007 through February 25, 2008.  The jury found that the District was not “deliberately indifferent” to the risk of unconstitutional over-detentions during this period of time.

This case, Barnes v. District of Columbia, is a class action, alleging over-detention and unconstitutional strip searches of inmates in the D.C. Department of Corrections, from September 1, 2005, forward.  The case is similar to a case settled by the District, Bynum v. District of Columbia, for the time period immediately prior to September 2005, involving about 4,000 prisoners.

The Court granted summary judgment for the District for all over-detentions from February 26, 2008 until the present.  The period from January 1, 2007 through February 25, 2008 was disputed at this trial. At trial, the District presented testimony about how the numerous steps it took during this period to reduce over-detentions showed that the District was not deliberately indifferent to the problem.  The jury returned on Monday, March 11, after a total deliberation of about five hours, finding that the District was not deliberately indifferent to over-detentions during the trial period.  As a result of these two decisions, the District will have no liability for any over-detention from January 1, 2007 through the present.

There are several aspects of the case that were decided before the case was sent by the Court to the jury.  With respect to the strip search class, the Court, by decision in June, 2011, granted summary judgment for the Plaintiffs on liability.  With respect to the over-detention class, the Court at that time also granted summary judgment for the Plaintiffs on liability for all over-detentions from September 1, 2005 to December 31, 2006, and for all over-detentions that were the result of the “10 pm cut-off rule,” a law that prohibited releasing inmates after 10 pm at night.  Damages for the period September 1, 2005 to December 31, 2006 remain to be determined.

The Director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, Thomas Faust, said: “The Department of Corrections is very gratified with the outcome of this case which acknowledges the progress made by the Department in eliminating the historical over-detention of inmates.”

Attorney General Nathan praised the jury’s carefully considered verdict in this trial and the service of its members, and praised the District’s trial team, which included Assistant Attorneys General Andy Saindon and Keith Parsons and was supervised by Deputy Attorney General Ellen Efros.

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