BY KEN LITTLE
No concrete proof has so far been offered to back up one of the most explosive allegations in a civil lawsuit filed last week by a former Greene County Detention Center inmate seeking $3 million in damages from the county in connection with a severe beating he received about one year ago from two other inmates.
The allegation in question concerns the alleged dismissal of several jail officers in recent weeks for improper behavior. The claim is strongly denied by Sheriff Steve Burns.
The lawsuit filed by Greeneville lawyer Tony G. Lee Jr. on behalf of plaintiff Dustin Riedel alleges that his constitutional rights were violated because of the "cruel and unusual punishment" Riedel received on Sept. 13, 2011 during the beating, along with violation of his due process rights because of the "severe physical and mental injuries" he suffered.
The lawsuit claims that county jail correction officers "seldom intercede in the fights between the inmates because they are so overwhelmingly outnumbered against the inmate population."
Entering a pod that houses inmates puts correction officials at "great risk" of harm, the civil lawsuit maintains.
Jail overcrowding is an acknowledged fact.
The lawsuit states in one part that Sheriff Burns and Capt. Neal Matthews, jail administrator, "are acutely aware of the problem with criminal activity within the jail, including drug and tobacco usage and prisoner-on-prisoner violence which the officers cannot control because of the overcrowded conditions within the [jail] and the prisoners' lack of respect for the integrity of some of the officers."
The lawsuit goes on to claim that in the six weeks before the civil suit was filed on Sept. 12, "at least five officers were dismissed for inappropriate conduct, including introducing drugs and alcohol into the facility, for sale or favors from the inmates."
Burns said on Friday that he had not read the lawsuit, but emphatically denied that any correction officers had been dismissed from jobs at the jail.
"That is absolutely not true. That didn't happen," Burns said.
Greene County correction officers "do a very good job under difficult conditions," he stated.
County Attorney Roger Woolsey on Friday characterized some of the allegations in the lawsuit as "pretty incredible" and seeming to have been "made up."
Lee said Monday in an interview that some of the allegations in the lawsuit, including the allegation about the dismissal of correction officers, are based primarily on information gathered in speaking with current and former Greene County Detention Center inmates.
Lee said the allegations in the lawsuit will be backed up during the discovery process, once he obtains documents requested from authorities.