Feds don’t want Idaho prison lawsuit paused
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal prosecutor says she doesn’t need a lawsuit against a private prison company put on hold for an FBI fraud investigation at an Idaho detention facility.
U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson’s statement was filed in Boise’s U.S. District Court Thursday afternoon in response to a request from Corrections Corporation of America lawyers.
Eight inmates at the Idaho prison sued the Nashville, Tenn.-based prison company in 2012, contending they were attacked by a prison gang because there weren’t enough guards on duty. The inmates also contend that CCA understaffed the prison to boost profits and then falsified reports to the state to cover up the understaffing. The prison company has acknowledged understaffing the prison by thousands of hours in 2012, but denies the claims in the lawsuit and contends that the housing unit the inmates lived in was not understaffed at the time of the gang attack.
The FBI launched an investigation into CCA earlier this year, looking at whether the company violated federal fraud laws by falsifying reports to the state about staffing levels at the prison.
In a motion filed in Boise’s U.S. District Court earlier this week, CCA attorney Kirtlan Naylor said the company wants to stave off turning over documents or taking part in depositions in the inmate lawsuit until the federal fraud investigation ends. Otherwise, Naylor said, the company’s employees who aren’t defendants in the lawsuit could be scared to testify lest they risk incriminating themselves in the FBI investigation.
Olson, the U.S. attorney for the District of Idaho, told the court that though federal law gives her the right to ask that a lawsuit be put on hold while a criminal investigation moves forward, she was declining to do so in this case. Olson said she wasn’t able to publicly provide the court with information about the scope of the investigation because she didn’t want to risk compromising it.
“The United States elects to take no position concerning how the Court should address the Motion to Stay. The United States recognizes that the Court is left with little information concerning any criminal investigation, but trusts the Court to understand why the United States must proceed in this manner at this time, and to weigh the equities of the current situation,” Olson wrote.
Attorneys for the inmates, meanwhile, have asked the court to deny CCA’s request to put the case on hold. Lawyer Wyatt Johnson told the judge that he believes the private prison company has already hidden or tampered with evidence in the case, and that they’ll be able to do so again if the lawsuit is stalled for the criminal investigation.
When the inmates’ attorney first told the prison company that they intended to sue, employees at the prison were told to dispose of a staffing log book, Johnson told the judge. To support those claims, CCA employee Mark Eixenberger filed an affidavit with the court saying that his supervisor at the end of 2012 reported being given orders to “hot trash” the log book. The term “hot trashing” is prison slang that means to throw an item in the trash outside of the prison or to take it home and destroy it, Eixenberger said.
“The specific purpose of removing the documents was to prevent its discovery,” Johnson wrote to the court. The instructions to get rid of the log books were because CCA expected an “upcoming audit on the facility.”
The private prison company has until the end of the month to respond to the inmates’ opposition on the motion to hold the lawsuit. It’s not immediately clear when a judge will rule on the request.