Couple files lawsuit claiming abuse at Harrison County jail

Published 4:48 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Long Beach woman and her husband have filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was abused while incarcerated at the Harrison County Jail.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, which was the same day former jailer Ryan Teel was convicted of abusing inmates. Former Capt. Rick Gaston, who was tried with Teel, was acquitted after the nine-day trial in federal court in Hattiesburg.

Gaston is one of the people named in the lawsuit filed by Frances Winn and her husband, Thomas. The lawsuit also names Sheriff George H. Payne Jr., former Capt. Steve Campbell, former Maj. Dianne Gatson-Riley and Capt. Phil Taylor. Campbell ran the agency’s professional standards unit, which performs internal investigations. Riley was the jail warden. Taylor was training director at the time in 2005, when the Winns were jailed.

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The lawsuit claims Frances Winn, 59, was subjected to physical and mental abuse, was denied food, sufficient water and medical treatment. She also claims she was taunted by jailers in acts “committed with malicious intent and/or absolute reckless disregard.”

Cy Faneca, the sheriff’s attorney, declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

The lawsuit also claims Frances Winn was held more than 15 hours after her bond was posted, constituting “punishment merely at the whim of jail staff.”

The lawsuit, which was filed by Gulfport attorney William Covington III, seeks unspecified punitive damages.

The lawsuit represents only one side of a legal argument. Among other claims, it says Frances Winn entered the jail with “no acute injuries, marks or bruises” but left with injuries and required psychiatric treatment.

The Winns were arrested together on a domestic disturbance charge on April 16, 2005. Thomas Winn was taken to jail and his wife was taken to Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, where she was treated for breathing problems, their attorney said. Thomas Winn claims he heard his wife’s mistreatment from a nearby holding cell after she was taken to the jail from the hospital.

The lawsuit claims Teel and Regina Rhodes, another former jailer, were among those taunting Winn. Teel is in custody without bond and will be sentenced Nov. 1. Rhodes, who was one of eight guards who already pleaded guilty to abusing inmates, will be sentenced Nov. 5.

The guards were accused of participating in a conspiracy, under color of law, to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate hundreds of inmates at the Harrison County jail. The charges were the result of an investigation prompted by the death of inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. after his beating in the booking room in February 2006.