NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For more than a year, the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office has shipped inmates to other prisons around the state due to overcrowding, and attorneys representing five former inmates say that practice led to prisoners being held several months past their release date.
"We know of at least about maybe a dozen more that definitely were over detained that we've been in contact with. I think the numbers are a little unknowable," MacArthur Justice Center attorney Emily Washington said.
Two of her clients were held three months past their release date, another for four months and two others five months past their release date, according to Washington.
The men were transported to the Riverbend Detention Center in East Carroll Parish in northeast Louisiana.
They were released after Washington notified OPP, Riverbend and Louisiana Department of Corrections of the complaints.
Washington filed a lawsuit on behalf of the former inmates. The suit claims "violations of their right to due process of law and seek to redress of the false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress perpetrated on them by defendants".
"For several of our clients...this was their first criminal conviction. I realize they still had a conviction, but they had served their time and were entitled to go home to their families. Many of them have children. Many had jobs and have jobs now," Washington said.
Washington is representing Eddie Copelin, Phillip Dominick III, Donald Guidry, Jessi Crittindon and Leon Burse.
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Orleans Parish Independent Jail Compliance Director Gary Maynard, OPP "Classification Manager" Corey Amacker, East Carroll Parish Sheriff Wynette Williams are among the nine people allegedly responsible.
The lawsuit claims OPP employees recorded the proper release dates for the former inmates, yet they remained at the East Carroll facility.
"Orleans said we did the paperwork and we sent it. East Carroll said we were just housing these guys, and The Department of Corrections said we don't have any record of these people," Washington said. "From our perspective, all of these agencies had a role to play in making sure that people were appropriately and timely processed into and released from the system and nobody did their job."
Spokesmen with the Orleans Parish Sheriff's office as well as the Louisiana Department of Corrections would not talk about these individual cases because of "pending litigation", but when asked specifically about if any measures were being put into place to possibly keep other inmates from being kept past their release date, they did not respond.
East Carroll officials did not respond to any request for comment.
"The lack of urgency by these agencies to fix the problem when they were notified about it or to correct the practices now is really disturbing," Washington said.
"As long as you have inmates housed out of parish, you have the potential for this type of mistake occurring going forward," Metropolitan Crime Commission's Rafael Goyeneche said.
OPP's population hovers between 1,500 and 1,600 inmates but can only house 1294 inmates at one time.
The prison shifts inmates to different facilities based on their court appearances.
Goyeneche said OPP is working to update its inmate tracking system because it does not translate with the systems used at other prisons.
"I would expect that it will be in place in the next several months. I think they've identified the firm, the software that they want. It's a matter of installing it," Goyeneche said.
He also warned the problem may even become greater with millions of dollars being funneled to NOPD while there has been a budget freeze at the sheriff's office and cuts to the district attorney's office.
"When the police rebuild their numbers and are able to respond to calls for service in a more timely manner, it will mean more arrests and more inmates in the local jail," Goyeneche said.