National Roundup

City begs pastor, strip club ow­ner to end their feud

COSHOCTON, Ohio (AP) - Officials are pleading for a pastor and an Ohio strip club owner to stop weekly protesting of each other's establishments over a years-long feud.

The Coshocton Tribune reports the letter to New Beginnings Ministries Pastor Bill Dunfee and strip club owner Thomas George was signed by the city law director, the county prosecutor and the sheriff.

Dunfee and men from the Warsaw church have protested outside the Foxhole North strip club in New Castle. The business has responded with Sunday morning protests outside the church, including a recent one by topless dancers.

The letter says the feud is straining local law enforcement and hurting the community but acknowledges they can't legally be stopped from protesting.

Each man has made allegations against the other, but authorities haven't prosecuted those cases.

Lawsuit filed in inmate's suicide moves forward

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - A Delaware family who sued two state Department of Corrections officials over an inmate's 2004 suicide can move forward with their lawsuit, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The wife and children of Christopher Barkes, who committed suicide at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in November 2004, filed the lawsuit in 2006 against former Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Stan Taylor and former warden Raphael Williams, both now retired.

In a 2-1 decision on Sept. 5, a three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled that the Barkes family can sue the former corrections officials, rejecting the officials' arguments that they should be immune from the lawsuit, The News Journal reported.

Attorney Jeffrey Martin, who represents the Barkes family, said his clients are pleased that the case is finally moving forward after so many years.

The Delaware Attorney General's Office, which represented the corrections officials, said they're reviewing their options but declined to comment on the case. They could ask for the full 3rd Circuit to review the decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Christopher Barkes, 37, hanged himself with a sheet in his cell at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Baltimore on Nov. 14, 2004, less than 24 hours after being arrested for violating probation.

Despite a history of substance abuse and suicide attempts, including one at Howard during a previous incarceration, a prison nurse passed Barkes through a mental health screening without calling for any special observation or care, the court ruling said.

The nurse apparently did not check prison records or probation reports describing Barkes as a threat to himself, instead relying on a form Barkes filled out saying he wasn't suicidal and didn't have substance abuse issues, the ruling said.

Still, Martin said Barkes did indicate on the form that he had attempted suicide in 2003, and that should have raised a red flag for the nurse, employed by First Correctional Medical, the company Delaware hired provide medical services in state prisons.

The 3rd Circuit panel ruled that Barkes' family's lawsuit can proceed against Taylor and Williams because both had been put on notice about the "deteriorating quality" of First Correctional Medical's care before the suicide.

Audits cited repeated deficiencies and on June 2004, five months before Barkes' suicide, one corrections official described the company as "beyond the borderline of not being in compliance with the contract," according to meeting minutes.

In court depositions, Williams and Taylor said they were aware the company was falling short and may have been intentionally keeping positions vacant to save money.

The corrections department didn't take any apparent action against First Correctional Medical until May 2005, six months after Barkes' suicide, according to court records.

The Barkes family also sued First Correctional Medical. In 2008, a judge found in favor of the family and ordered the company to pay them $850,000. But the company went into bankruptcy and the family was never able to collect on the award, Martin said.

The remaining lawsuit against Taylor and Williams seeks unspecified damages for Barkes' widow and two children.

Martin said his clients have been left with a void in their lives and are looking forward to having their day in court.

State seeks to reverse federal judge's ruling

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - State officials are asking a federal appellate court to reverse the judge's finding that hot conditions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary's death row are unconstitutional.

In a filing with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attorneys for the state Department of Corrections argue that there is no basis in law for Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson's order that heat indexes on death row - how hot it actually feels - not top 88 degrees from April through October.

State officials claim the judge's ruling and order effectively requires the state to install an "extensive and expensive" air conditioning unit or some other humidity-controlling device, something no court has ever mandated, to correct a violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

"No court, including the Fifth Circuit, has ever directed a prison to implement air conditioning or any other mechanical cooling system in order to achieve an acceptable heat index in any type of correctional facility in Louisiana, Mississippi, or Texas," the state's attorneys note in court papers that were filed last month at the appeals court in New Orleans.

The attorneys say inmates don't have a constitutional right to mechanical cooling. While the Eighth Amendment doesn't permit inhumane conditions, they say, it also doesn't mandate comfortable prisons.

The Advocate reports attorneys for three Louisiana condemned killers who sued the state last year over the oppressive heat have until Sept. 23 to enter their response to the state's filing.

Jackson toured the Angola prison last summer and ruled in December that high heat indexes on death row amounted to a violation of the inmates' constitutional rights. He ordered the state to devise a plan to cool down death row.

The judge in May approved the state's court-mandated remediation plan - which includes adding air conditioning, providing chests filled with ice and allowing inmates once-daily cold showers - and ordered its immediate implementation. But the 5th Circuit stayed the order on June 6.

During a court-ordered monitoring period last summer, the state's attorneys say the heat index on the death-row tiers frequently ranged between 86 and 97 degrees, and rarely exceeded 99 degrees.