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Can’t ignore jail claims

  • Published Sunday, July 1, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw doesn’t think recent allegations of abuse at the county jail should be a campaign issue in the upcoming elections. But, fair or not, the allegations are so terrible that they can’t help but be.

Hinshaw’s point has merit: The courts haven’t ruled yet on the cases. And what has been reported thus far has largely been from one side, as county officials are restricted in what they can say.

Still, the claims are so shocking that they naturally raise concerns among voters about the culture and operation of the jail.

Jail deputy David E. Kendall recently was arrested and charged with 12 counts, 11 of them sex crimes allegedly involving six victims. The crimes allegedly occurred over a two-month period.

If the allegations are true, they raise questions about how so many abuses could occur. Did the inmates report the abuses? If so, were those allegations taken seriously by jail supervisors?

A lawsuit over the treatment of mentally ill inmates raises even more questions and concerns about the management of the jail.

Affidavits filed in the federal civil rights lawsuit related to the 2008 beating of 59-year-old inmate Edgar Richard Jr. contend that mentally ill inmates have been subjected to beatings, abuse, neglect and humiliation.

A statement by a sergeant with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office claims that deputies used excessive force without consequence; routinely referred to “mentally ill or retarded persons as mentals, crazies, retards and idiots”; and held a contest in which songs, slogans and “art” ridiculed the mentally ill.

Even worse, at least six watch commanders and other top sheriff’s officials saw the “art,” according to the sergeant, and the contest’s judge allegedly was the undersheriff who oversees the office’s professional standards unit.

If the claims are true, this isn’t just one or two bad-apple deputies; it’s a much bigger problem with the culture and leadership of the jail.

Hinshaw told The Eagle editorial board last week that he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because it is ongoing. But he cautioned that the public is getting only one side of the story. He also noted the work he has done trying to improve the handling of inmates with mental illnesses, including recommending to the Sedgwick County Commission that one of the jail’s pods be reserved for mentally ill inmates.

Hinshaw has been outspoken about the rape allegations, saying that they “tarnish all of our badges” and are embarrassing.

His opponent in the GOP primary, Jeff Easter, told the editorial board that he was not going to politicize the allegations. However, he has criticized the Sheriff’s Office for not immediately contacting the District Attorney’s Office and bringing in an outside entity to investigate the rape allegations, rather than doing its own investigation first.

The rape case and lawsuit likely won’t be resolved before the Aug. 7 Republican primary. So voters may have to decide on their own what to make of these allegations and whether their votes will be affected. But the allegations can’t be ignored.

For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee

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