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Lawsuit Filed After 14 Deaths At West Virginia Regional Jail

Families of 14 inmates who have died in a West Virginia jail in the past year amid reports of poor conditions, rampant violence and inadequate medical services are demanding a federal investigation into what they say is negligence by state authorities. The 14th death was Herbert Doss, 48, who had been incarcerated for three months, died of causes that are not yet known at the Southern regional jail in Beaver, W. Va. The alarming spate of deaths has prompted protests from the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign The campaign has joined bereaved families and other advocacy groups to file a complaint to the U.S. Justice Department's civil rights division calling for a full federal investigation into the “senseless and tragic” deaths, The Guardian reports.

Families working with the Poor People’s Campaign accused state officials of failing to investigate the deaths thoroughly. Kim Burks, whose son Quantez Burks, 37, died last year less than 24 hours after being admitted, said: “We will not let this injustice stand. We are never going to stop until we get justice for Quan.” An independent autopsy commissioned by the family found signs of blunt force trauma on Quantez’s body including fractured ribs. “The findings were consistent with being handcuffed while being beaten,” Kim Burks said. “Both of his wrists were broken, he had an arm broken, nose broken, and a leg bone broken.” In the past decade, more than 100 inmates have died in West Virginia regional jails. The spate of 13 deaths at Southern jail alone in 2022 marked a disturbing increase in mortality, up from only one death in 2018. A class-action lawsuit claiming civil rights violations at the jail has been filed in federal court on behalf of almost 1,000 current and former inmates. The document paints a devastating picture of understaffing, overcrowding, endemic violence and a rotting infrastructure that has created appalling conditions inside cells. “A 1950s or 60s Russian Gulag could not have been worse than 2023 West Virginia,” said Stephen New, co-counsel in the lawsuit. “Prisoners are killing each other and themselves. Guards are instructing female gangs to beat up female prisoners. It’s dystopian.” The jail capacity jail is 468 inmates, but the current population is 711.


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