Flooded-Prison Lawsuit Moved Back to Texas

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A lawsuit originally filed in Washington, D.C. accusing the federal Bureau of Prisons of refusing to evacuate prisoners jailed in Beaumont during Hurricane Rita is coming home to Texas.

And that's not necessarily a good thing for the plaintiffs.

More than 400 current and former inmates at the United States Penitentiary Beaumont, represented in a class-action federal civil lawsuit, claim that during the month immediately after Hurricane Rita in 2005 they were locked inside their cells without sufficient water, food, medical help, showers or clean clothing. Additionally, the inmates claim the toilets did not work and there was no ventilation or escape from the rising tide of urine and feces collecting in their cells.

The Houston Press originally reported this story in February.

The case was initially filed in D.C. last January, but the court there recently moved the case to the Eastern District of Texas, saying the venue back east was improper and it should be heard in Beaumont. Among other considerations, the court said, were the convenience of witnesses and parties in the case.

“I wanted to file this in Washington, D.C.,” says the inmates’ attorney, Norman Sirak, “because I wanted to put it on the doorstep of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which is actually totally responsible for this. But the court found that plenty of wrongdoing took place in Beaumont, which it did, and that there are more ties to the Beaumont community, which there are, so the court moved it to Beaumont.”

Sirak says one of the reasons he did not originally file the lawsuit in Beaumont was because he feared a lack of sympathy in the community there. (See the comments section to the Press’s original story)

“One of my reasons my reasons for not wanting to be there,” says Sirak, “is that I said there’s no sympathy in Beaumont for inmates, and it doesn’t seem there is. But the judge said you don’t have the trial in front of a jury, you have the trial in front of a federal judge.”

In light of this, Sirak says he is not upset about the venue switch.

“It is a huge relief,” he says of the decision that the case won't be a jury trial.

-- Chris Vogel

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