Galveston inmates seek mental anguish damages over lockup durring Hurricane Ike

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau May 7, 2009, 4:32am

Galveston Seawall

GALVESTON – Alleging the Galveston County Sheriff's Office jeopardized their safety by not evacuating ahead of Hurricane Ike, two Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates have filed handwritten lawsuits against the former sheriff and others in Galveston County District Court.

Michael Shane Smith and James Carl Willis say Gean Leonard and other members of the sheriff's office deliberately ignored Gov. Rick Perry and Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas's calls for a mandatory evacuation of Galveston Island in response to the Category 2 storm.

The plaintiffs, who were detained in the Galveston County Jail at the time, argue that the defendants placed them and other prisoners in harm's way by not vacating the facility.

"Gean Leonard and the other sheriff's department defendants were deliberately indifferent and grossly negligent to the life, health, and safety of the inmates entrusted into their custody," the suits state.

Ike came ashore on Galveston's East End with 110-mph winds and a 15-foot storm surge the morning of Sept. 13, damaging numerous residences and businesses and rendering thousands of residents homeless.

The suits claim the prisoners were denied due process and subjected to inhumane living conditions at the jail during and after the storm, labeling the men's reported experiences as cruel and unusual punishment in conflict with state law.

Smith and Willis, now detained at the Gist Unit near Beaumont, consequently suffered mental anguish and emotional duress, they add.

Representing themselves, the plaintiffs all seek monetary and other damages, but do not specify the amounts.

An article that appeared in The Galveston County Daily News on Apr. 27 reported that officials from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards toured the lockup, which has a capacity of 1,300 inmates, a week after the hurricane and found no problems.

Executive director Adan Munoz said in the same article the commission had no authority to order an evacuation

Galveston County 122nd District Court Judge John Ellisor is presiding over Smith's case while Willis's suit has been assigned to 212th District Court Judge Susan Criss.

Case Nos. 09CV0663 and 09CV0667

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