ACLU files emergency petition on behalf of Manatee County Jail inmates

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Manatee County for Web wwsb generic(WWSB-ABC7)
Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 7:10 AM EDT
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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WWSB) - The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has filed an emergency petition on behalf of those incarcerated in the Manatee County Jail.

The petition seeks the release of inmates from custody or a transfer to a safe location due to the nearby phosphate wastewater reservoir.

The situation at Piney Point had previously called for mandatory evacuations but on Tuesday those evacuations were lifted.

On Friday, April 2, a breach was discovered in the structure of the Piney Point wastewater reservoir.

In a release, ACLU officials said, “If the jail is flooded, persons detained there, as well as the employees, could become trapped on upper levels and be unable to access critical infrastructure on the first floor.”

“There is an imminent danger to those in the jail, yet the sheriff is endangering both those in his care and his employees by continuing to detain individuals in the mandatory evacuation zone,” said Benjamin Stevenson, an ACLU staff attorney, and the petition’s lead attorney.

The petition is filed against Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells and represents those who are in custody pre-trial and those in post-conviction. According to ACLU, one individual represented in the case is in pretrial custody because she can’t afford her bail, which is $1,620.

“Many of the individuals in custody at the jail simply don’t need to be in there in the first place,” said Jacqueline Azis, one of ACLU’s staff attorneys. “They are only in custody because they cannot afford their pretrial freedom. Sitting in custody on an unaffordable bail pretrial - when you are presumed innocent - is always unjust. we should not wait until an emergency arises to recognize and fix our broken criminal justice system.”

ACLU officials said the petition is asking the court to find that keeping individuals in custody during an emergency is “unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.”

The petition also asks the court to order the immediate release of those individuals or transfer them to another, secure location out of the previous evacuation zone.

The case was filed in Florida’s Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court in Manatee County.

You can read the full petition below:

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