Judge has praise for Allen County sheriff and his team

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Condemning the indifference in Allen County, a federal judge Thursday didn’t hide his dissatisfaction with the Allen County Commissioners who weren’t able to produce a long-term plan to either build or otherwise replace the existing downtown jail where overcrowding and lack of staffing have led to inhumane conditions.

“I’m really interested in the long-term plan,” Judge Damon R. Leichty told the county’s lawyers, Ted Storer and Laura Maser. A report due July 14 “better darn well include the long-term plan,” he added.

Leichty was in town for a status hearing at the downtown federal courthouse where attorneys for Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux and the commissioners were ordered to appear after he laid down conditions in a court opinion March 31. Leichty sided with the ACLU and Allen County inmates who sued the county in January 2020 over the conditions and a lack of safety.

Sheriff David Gladieux (right) and Deputy Chief of Operations Gary Grant.

“If you think I’m just going to sit here and wait, I’m not,” Leichty told county attorneys who had hoped to push compliance 90 or 180 days out.

Disregarding pleas to spend more time to get it right and to get environmental studies on possible sites for a jail complex, Leichty gave the county two weeks to get a committee together to assist in short-term and long-term solutions and a month to choose property and hire an architect.

Another status hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 25. On that day, Leichty may hear from the activist group, Help Not Handcuffs, who filed an amicus curiae brief Thursday.

“The deadline was quite clear set by my order,” Leichty said with some exasperation. Asking the lawyers when they’d ever visited the jail, he barely waited for their response, remarking if they’d experienced those conditions, they would have acted “altogether different.”

Turning his attention to Ken Falk, ACLU legal director, he said the words “contempt of court” reiterated by Falk.

Falk said the plaintiffs – in this case Allen County inmates and the ACLU – wanted specifics.

“I don’t want to see ‘we may be doing this, we may be doing that’,” Falk said. After the hearing, Falk, surrounded by two interns and Stevie Pactor, ACLU staff attorney, criticized the county’s efforts.

“The county was saying today that they did not know when they would have an architect, they did not know when they would have land, they did not know when they would have a definite plan. Well, the county’s had plenty of time to come up with that,” Falk said.

Contrary to what he had to say about the county, its commissioners and the county council responsible for paying for the jail and staffing, Leichty commended Sheriff David Gladieux..

Jail numbers went from an average of about 800 inmates to Thursday’s 680.  Inmates sleeping in “boats” on the floor went from a high of 150 at one time, to 23 Thursday and recreational hours for inmates have been scheduled three times a week for inmates who are eligible.

“The sheriff is often the least responsible entity” for reducing the inmate population. “He can’t open the back door,” Falk said.

Leichty looked over at Gladieux sitting between Deputy Chief David Butler, the Allen County Jail Commander, and Allen County Commissioner Nelson Peters.

“I want to commend Sheriff Gladieux and his team,” he said. Even with progress alleviating problems at the jail, staffing continues to be a problem, particularly with hiring people to work a difficult job in a semi-dilapidated facility.

The sheriff’s attorney, John Feighner, said while Gladieux got funding from the County Council last year to add 10 more confinement officers to bring the total to 144, the department is short 17.

Therefore, the sheriff needs to come up with a plan to hire those officers, something which Gladieux said he’ll be able to do.

Leaving the meeting, Peters looked concerned. When asked if the commissioners and county stakeholders would be able to furnish the report on the judge’s order, Peters said at first he didn’t know.

“It doesn’t sound like we’ve got a choice,” he added.