Three days before the full kickoff of a scheduled receivership, a federal judge suspended takeover actions at the Hinds County Detention Center in Raymond, Miss., following the County’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Judge Carlton Reeves appointed a receiver for the facility last October after finding Hinds County in contempt twice, in November 2021 and February 2022, for not complying with the 2016 consent decree it reached with the U.S. Department of Justice to remedy dangerous conditions at the facility and a subsequent 2020 order.
Reeves ordered “the Monitoring Team and Receiver … to suspend their work,” on Dec. 29, 2022. The suspension will remain in place until the appeals court decides the case.
The suspension of the receivership will allow Hinds County Sheriff Tyree Jones to implement his plans for the facility, Hinds County Board of Supervisors President Vern Gavin told the Mississippi Free Press at his office on Jan. 11, 2023.
“We’ve had a turnover in our sheriff’s department and with the death of Sheriff Lee Vance—and of course Sheriff Lee Vance had only come in for a short period of time in that capacity—so there have been a number of different sheriffs, so it’s been under a number of different administrations, if you will,” Gavin said. Vance won an election to be Hinds County Sheriff in November 2019, but died less than two years later in August 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19. Tyree Jones won a special election for sheriff in November 2021.
“And I think it is unfortunate that there were problems at the jail, and with the changes in the administration, those sheriffs, if you will, had not had a good opportunity to implement their operational plan,” Gavin continued. “But I think now that the Fifth Circuit Court has made this ruling, it would at least give Sheriff Tyree Jones an opportunity to implement a plan of action.”
Court documents show that more than five people died at the Hinds County Detention Center in 2021. One of them was 41-year-old Michael Richardson, who had been arrested that October for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. He died ten days after his arrest when fellow inmates repeatedly hit him on the head. People in jail are waiting for the disposition of their cases in court and are legally innocent until proven guilty.
In July 2022, after finding the County in contempt for not complying with the consent decree, Judge Reeves wrote that the court could not “wait for continued destruction of the facilities.”
“We can’t wait for the proliferation of more contraband. We can’t wait for another death. The time to act is now. There is no choice, unfortunately,” he wrote.
Reeves also pushed back on the County’s solution of building another jail facility. He said detainees would likely “just dismantle that facility, too,” if the same “inadequate supervision and staffing” were just transferred to a new jail.
Months later, on Oct. 31, 2022, the federal judge ordered Wendell M. France, Sr., an adjunct professor at two Maryland universities with years of experience in corrections, to start running the troubled facility for a salary of $16,000 a month. “On November 1, 2022, France shall begin his transition into the receivership by cultivating relationships with County officials and developing a draft Plan of Action to achieve constitutional conditions of compliance with the Court’s Orders,” Judge Reeves wrote at the time. “To effectuate a smooth transition, the Receiver’s operational control over RDC shall not take effect until January 1, 2023.”
After that October 2022 ruling, the County immediately filed an appeal.
A panel of three 5th Circuit judges decided on Dec. 28, 2022, that the suspension of the order for receivership will be in place while the appeal is pending. The next day, Reeves ordered the monitoring team and receiver to send the County “their final bills for work done and expenses paid up to December 28, 2022.”
Gavin explained that the appeals court’s decision pushes a final order regarding the fate of the County’s main jail facility into the future.
“The detention center, at this point, is back into the hands of the sheriff and his administration for operational purposes,” he said. “Now, that decision could be reversed; when the 5th Circuit Court gets to that decision, they could make another receivership.”