Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Justice Dept. asks about Grant Co. jail

Abuse allegations may be reason for inquiry

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILLIAMSTOWN - The Justice Department has been gathering information on the Grant County jail as allegations of prisoner abuse mount.

The Kentucky Department of Corrections, a county prosecutor, two trial lawyers and a Northern Kentucky resident have been contacted by Justice Department officials seeking specific information about the jail.

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to speak publicly about the jail.

Federal authorities recently asked the Department of Corrections for its biannual inspections that focus primarily on the jail's physical plant, said department spokeswoman Lisa Lamb. Jail officials have cited a positive review of the jail by state inspectors in April as evidence the jail is run properly.

Pendleton County Attorney Don Wells said he was asked by a Justice Department official if he was aware of any problems at the jail. Wells was the first elected official to speak out against the jail. He declined to indict a Falmouth businessman on a drunken driving charge after that defendant claimed he was beaten by guards there.

"There is apparently some interest by the Justice Department," Wells said. "But I don't know if there will be any further inquires on their part."

Wells said he told federal officials that a Pendleton County teen-ager's claims of sexual abuse at the jail became "more of a celebrated case" because of a lack of candor on the part of jail officials concerning problems at facility.

Covington Attorney Don Nageleisen said he provided federal agents with names and phone numbers of people claiming they were mistreated at the jail. Nageleisen is representing three Northern Kentucky residents who have filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court in Covington claiming their civil rights were violated.

Two of his clients claimed they were assaulted and sexually abused by fellow inmates. The third client claims he was beaten by guards for spilling a cup of juice.

Covington Attorney Paul Hill said he too was called by Justice Department officials seeking information on the jail. Hill is representing the Falmouth businessman allegedly beat by guards.

Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam has referred all questions concerning jail misconduct to his lawyer, Tom Nienaber. Nienaber said he had no knowledge of any Justice Department inquiry.

E-mail jhannah@enquirer.com

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