South Carolina

Sheriffs face lawsuit after keeping inmates in jail during mandatory evacuation order

Wind whips around at Myrtle Beach pier as Florence hits coast

Wind picked up at Springmaid Pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Friday, September 14, 2018. Hurricane Florence earlier made landfall in North Carolina.
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Wind picked up at Springmaid Pier in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Friday, September 14, 2018. Hurricane Florence earlier made landfall in North Carolina.

Three Virginia sheriffs are being sued after refusing to move inmates in a mandatory evacuation zone, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron, Chesapeake Sheriff Jim O’Sullivan and Portsmouth Sheriff Michael Moore were named in a lawsuit filed Wednesday for failing to evacuate almost 2,500 inmates from the area of Virginia most prone to flooding, according to the suit.

In anticipation of Hurricane Florence and its readily shifting track, Commonwealth Gov. Ralph Northam ordered that all residents of evacuation Zone A leave as soon as possible, the Virginia Pilot reported. Zone A consists of areas most likely to flood.

Baron, O’Sullivan and Moore, all in command of prisons falling in Zone A, decided it was best to hunker down and wait out the storm, Mother Jones reported.

“This conduct shocks the conscience; our country’s Constitution simply cannot tolerate this type of discriminatory treatment, where all free citizens evacuate to save their life, but inmates are placed in dire straits at a local jail because they are incarcerated — noting that many inmates are pretrial detainees who have merely (been) accused of a crime,” the documents filed by human rights law firm Nexus Derechos Humanos said.

Virginia’s evacuation order was lifted Friday as Florence struck the southern end of the North Carolina coast.

Officials in Virginia aren’t the only ones facing scrutiny for their treatment of suspects or convicted criminals as Hurricane Florence barreled towards the Carolinas coast.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has faced multiple protests and a rebuke from the Palmetto State’s division of the ACLU following corrections officials’ decision to leave inmates in two prisons in place for the duration of the storm.

The two prisons — Ridgeland and MacDougall correctional institutions — were ordered to shelter in place as thousands fled the South Carolina coast under a mandatory evacuation order, according to a report first published by The State Tuesday.

The order to evacuate Jasper County, home to Ridgeland, was lifted Tuesday afternoon as it seemed Florence would take a heavier swipe at North Carolina. Though MacDougall remained in the evacuation zone, inmates remained at the medium-security institution while prisoners at a low-security facility outside of the evacuation zone were taken to shelter elsewhere.

In addition to the state’s prisons, a Charleston County jail will hold all of it’s inmates throughout Florence even though it is located in a FEMA flood zone. Officials at the jail said the structure, which was added on to the prison complex in 2010, is rated to hold during the hurricane.

While its neighbors to the North and South left prisoners in place, hundreds of North Carolina inmates were shuffled out of the way of the storm, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Prison officials wouldn’t identify to reporters what facilities were being evacuated, but spokespeople told the Observer that several hundred state inmates were being moved to larger facilities while several hundred inmates at county jails were harbored in state prisons.

The evacuations of the incarcerated population in North Carolina began Monday, the Observer reported.

So far, officials in the Carolinas aren’t facing civil or criminal legal action over their treatment of inmates during the severe weather crisis, according to a search of federal and local court documents.

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