When most people think of post-conviction relief, they think of the process handled by a criminal appeals attorney. One man formerly incarcerated in the Pittsburg County Jail, however, needed a different type of help. He wasn't trying to get a reduced sentence or get released from jail early; rather, he simply should have been able to get out on time. James C. Payne of Amarillo, Texas, has filed suit against the Oklahoma Department of Corrections claiming that he was held in the Pittsburg County Jail for approximately three months after his sentence had expired.
Conviction for Stalking
Payne was convicted in 2010 of felony stalking and violating a protective order (VPO). He was sentenced in February 2010 for the felony stalking conviction, and he was sentenced in August of that year on the misdemeanor VPO conviction. Payne was ordered to serve a year in the Pittsburg County Jail because of a county jail backlog that attempts to alleviate prison overcrowding by allowing county facilities to house inmates bound for state prisons. County jails are paid at a rate of $27 per day per prisoner for housing the inmates. This translates to an expenditure of about $20 million per year to house state inmates in county jails.
Payne alleges in his lawsuit that he was scheduled to be released on June 11, 2011, but that when his sentence expired, he remained in jail and was ridiculed for his attempts to be released.
Incarcerated Beyond Original Sentence
His attorney says that in mid-June 2011, Payne told the jail's administrator, Missi Eldridge, that his release date had passed, but that Eldridge and jail guards simply laughed at him. Payne further asserts that when he complained about his prolonged imprisonment, a guard even said the jail made money from the state Department of Corrections by keeping Payne incarcerated.
The Department of Corrections and the guards named in the lawsuit have not yet responded to the suit. However, Eldridge, the jail administrator did answer the lawsuit through her attorneys. Eldridge says that although she did speak with the plaintiff about his release date, she never mocked him or laughed at him. In responding to allegations of a June 11, 2011, scheduled release date, her attorneys wrote, "Defendants are without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations," noting that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections sets the release date of individuals convicted of felonies.
Payne is seeking monetary damages for his prolonged incarceration as well as the loss of his personal effects, which he says were housed in a storage locker and auctioned off as a result of his extended imprisonment. His lawsuit was filed in federal court.