Victim in jail attack sues sheriff, county

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS COUNTY — A man is suing Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark, the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and Pickens County, alleging that overcrowding conditions led to him being injured in an attack while incarcerated.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Howard W. Anderson III on May 18 on behalf of Jonathan Ledbetter. According to county records, Ledbetter was booked on April 1 for probation violation.

The suit alleges that a group of inmates “savagely beat” Ledbetter on April 22, “while the Detention Center was again housing more inmates than its maximum-rated capacity.”

“The attack on Plantiff Ledbetter would not have occurred and/or would have been broken up sooner if the Detention Center had not been so overcrowded,” the lawsuit alleges.

The suit alleges that “Sheriff Clark has repeatedly asked for funds to remedy the overcrowding situation, but Pickens County has not appropriated sufficient funds to him.”

“By allowing chronic and significant overcrowding of the Detention Center, the Defendants, under color of law, have been recklessly indifferent to Mr. Ledbetter’s rights,” the lawsuit alleges.

The suit alleges negligence on the part of detention center staff with respect to the conditions “leading up to and/or the response to the attack on Plantiff Ledbetter.”

Ledbetter was still an inmate in the detention center when the suit was filed on May 18. According to records, he was released on May 26.

The lawsuit seeks damages, a declaratory judgment acknowledging that Ledbetter’s rights were violated due to overcrowding at the detention center, an award that would preclude further violations of his rights, attorney fees and reimbursement for the cost of filing the lawsuit.

Eight inmates were charged after the attack on Ledbetter and another inmate on April 22.

A media release issued by the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office on April 28 announcing those charges stated that the incident occurred in the pod, “an open area by design,” typically used for general population.

The pod’s rated capacity is 32, but on the day of the event there were approximately 65 inmates assigned to that area “due to issues associated with overcrowding,” the release stated.

The rated capacity for the entire facility is 93, but on the date of the assault, the total population was 226 inmates, according to the release.

“We routinely see that confrontations among inmates tend to rise during periods where the jail population grows well over 200,” Clark said in the release. “Our officers work diligently to make the environment as safe as possible but with the number of people in such a small area of square footage it is a huge challenge. I am encouraged by council’s movement to investigate potential solutions to this issue and it is my hope that appropriate measures will continue to be taken to minimize the risks and hazards exposed to our detention personnel and to the inmates that are detained within the facility.”

County officials discussed the overcrowding issues at the May 2 county council meeting. Interim county administrator Tom Hendricks told council he’d recently met with an architect to explore options for a new jail.

“Spending millions of dollars is not going to stop a bunch of people from doing what they normally do,” Hendricks said.

He said to solve the problem, cooperation from multiple bodies would be needed.

“The magistrates, the solicitor’s office, the judges,” Hendricks said at that meeting. “We’ve got to do something with the system — and the people in that system have to help.”