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Montgomery County set to settle jail lawsuit

Montgomery County set to settle jail lawsuit

2,300 former inmates affected
Montgomery County set to settle jail lawsuit
Photographer: Shutterstock

MONTGOMERY COUNTY -- After six years of litigation, a federal civil rights class action lawsuit representing 2,300 former inmates of the Montgomery County Jail has a tentative settlement agreement with the county, both sides confirmed Thursday. 

The former prisoners alleged they were not provided adequate nutrition, in violation of the 8th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, during their time in custody in the jail during the tenure of former Montgomery County Sheriff Michael Amato. 

The Montgomery County Legislature on Tuesday night passed a resolution endorsing an agreement in principle to settle the lawsuit. 

Attorney E. Robert Keach of Amsterdam represents the original "class representatives" for the lawsuit, former Montgomery County Jail prisoners Perry Hill and James Rogers.

"There's a tentative settlement that has been discussed between the parties and is in the process of being formalized in a written settlement agreement," Keach said. "We have an agreement in principle to resolve the case." 

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort confirmed a tentative deal to settle the lawsuit has been reached. He said the terms of the settlement cannot be disclosed yet. 

"We do have a tentative settlement at this point that has not yet been finalized, and we're working to do that over the next coming days and potentially weeks, as soon as that is finalized I can speak to the details of the settlement agreement," Ossenfort said. 

Perry Hill filed the lawsuit against the county, Amato and jail administrator Michael Franko in 2014, alleging he was only fed 1,700 calories per day, and sometimes less, when he was held at the jail from October 2013 to March 2014 on a parole violation.

The suit argues adult males need 2,400 to 3,000 calories, depending on physical exertion.

The county's decision to settle the lawsuit comes after several court decisions have gone against it in this case. 

In 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Brenda K. Sannes for the Northern District Court of New York approved class action status for the lawsuit, ruling against arguments made by Montgomery County Attorney Meghan Manion.

Sannes' ruling allowed Hill and Rogers to act as "class representatives," opening up participation in the lawsuit to anyone detained at the jail for at least two weeks since July 24, 2011 and up until Montgomery County could show a policy of restricting food for the prisoners had been stopped. The judge found enough evidence that Montgomery County may have underfed inmates to send the matter to trial.

In his testimony for the case, Amato claimed he was aware the inmates complained they wanted more food and were hungry, but believed the complaints were made because they wanted the commissary back, which had been taken away.

On Nov. 7 Sannes ruled against Manion's motion for summary judgment in the case, which means the case would have had to go to trial if it were not settled. 

One inmate, Andre Cruz, said in his testimony inmates were relegated to eating oral hygiene products while at the jail.

“The last meal was at maybe quarter to 5 p.m. We don’t eat again until the next day around 7 p.m." he said in his testimony. "So, we ate toothpaste, we ordered Halls from commissary, before they took that away, just to kind of not starve.” 

Keach said the lawsuit was tentatively settled thanks to a lot of work by his law partner Maria Dyson and Washington, D.C.-based attorney Nicholas Migliaccio.

 "This was a righteous crusade to help these people and my colleagues and I are very happy that we've been able to do so," he said. 


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