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Garco undersheriff: prisoner abuse allegations ‘sensationalized’

Bobby MagillGlenwood Springs correspondent

Garfield County undersheriff Tim Templon on Monday defended Sheriff Lou Vallario and the Garfield County Jail against allegations of abuse by the American Civil Liberties Union. He also said the jail’s policy regarding attorney access is in place for good reasons.The ACLU is seeking an emergency order from a federal judge in Denver that would prohibit Vallario and his staff from barring ACLU lawyers from interviewing inmates, some of whom claim jail staff is violating their rights. Current, but unwritten, jail policy requires sheriff’s deputies to ask inmates who their attorneys are, and if the inmate’s answer isn’t the lawyer seeking an interview, denies the meeting. The case is set to come before Federal District Judge Walker D. Miller in Denver this morning. Under jail policy, deputies are required to escort inmates to meet with visitors. Templon said it gets expensive to take an inmate from a cell for interviews frequently.”It takes manpower to do that, which in turn costs money,” he said. If any lawyer were allowed to talk to any inmate, lawyers could end up competing with one another at the jail over inmate representation. A judge will have to decide whether the policy is appropriate, he said. Templon said ACLU attorneys may talk to inmates if an inmate identifies the ACLU as his attorney. “They don’t like a small-town sheriff to tell them ‘no’ to something,” Templon said of the ACLU.As to the ACLU’s allegations of inmate abuse at the jail, Templon denied all of them outright, calling the claims “sensationalized.””I’m 100 percent sure we are in the right,” he said. Vallario is on vacation out of the country; Templon said he will likely offer a more detailed explanation of jail policies and procedures when the sheriff returns next week. Alleged abuses the ACLU cited in legal documents filed in federal court last week include abusive and unjustified use of a restraint chair and pepper spray as punishment; forcing at least one inmate to take outdoor recreation time before dawn in subzero temperatures without shoes; lack of adequate health care; and denial of health care, among others. In denying the allegations, Templon said the jail’s restraint chair comes into use when an inmate becomes combative and tries to injure himself or another person. “What else do you do with a person like that?” Templon said. “It’s actually for their own benefit.”He said medical staff monitors restrained inmates. To illustrate that the jail is not violating inmates’ rights and is operated professionally, Templon cited a 2005 facilities assessment report by the federal National Institute of Corrections, an arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. The report, written after an NIC inspector visited the jail over three days in August and September, says the jail “is extremely well maintained and managed,” and “staff is professional in their demeanor and treats the inmates with respect, which is returned (with very few exceptions) by the inmates to the staff.”However, there is a lack of space for medical exams, such that the jail keeps inmates’ medical files in file cabinets in the exam room, the report said. The report also said the jail lacks an adequate operations manual, which it said is “critical.” Such a manual ensures that staff is operating the jail according to the decisions of management and that operating practices are “consistent and meet legal mandates.””Should the jail ever be subject to litigation, the manual will provide the courts and its juries with a detailed description of how the jail is intended to be operated,” the report said. “The second half of what would be needed would be documentation showing that practices are following policies and procedures.”


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