RANDOLPH COUNTY — The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office violates the civil rights of its jail inmates by forbidding any printed reading material other than the Bible, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a man who was being held in the jail while awaiting trial.
Franklin Kyle Willis filed the lawsuit against Sheriff Greg Seabolt and Maj. Phillip Cheek in U.S. District Court in Greensboro in October, but summonses notifying Seabolt and Cheek of the lawsuit were not issued until last week. It was unclear whether the summonses have been served yet.
Seabolt could not be reached by The High Point Enterprise, and Amanda Varner, the public affairs director for the sheriff’s office, said she had not heard of the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages “for extensive mental and emotional damages from the forced idleness that compounded Plaintiff’s existing mental illnesses of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Public records indicate there are at least two Franklin Kyle Willises in Randolph County, and it was not clear which one filed the lawsuit.
In the four-page, handwritten complaint, Willis said the jail not only does not allow inmates to have books, magazines or newspapers, in violation of their First Amendment rights, they also do not have access to written legal materials, in violation of their 14th Amendment rights of due process.
On May 1, six correctional officers at Cheek’s direction conducted a search of the jail and confiscated all reading materials that were not the Bible, the lawsuit said.
“All paperback books such as fiction and non-fiction novels, dictionaries, religious study guides, devotionals, magazines, newspapers, law-related guidebooks, and Holy Korans were thrown into a commercial size trash cart and removed from the inmates,” Willis wrote.
When questioned about it by a member of Willis’ family, a jail official said that the reading materials were considered a fire hazard.
“The other reasons provided from various officers throughout the jail is that an inmate was having contraband smuggled into the facility on the pages of novels that were delivered by mail,” Willis wrote.
Eventually, officials said a library app would be loaded onto electronic tablets that inmates are allowed to use, but Willis wrote that there were several problems with that: There aren’t enough tablets for every inmate to have one at the same time; they can be used only from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 6:15-9:30 p.m.; and the app’s limited content does not include, among other things, law books, legal dictionaries, magazines or newspapers.
The lawsuit also requests that the court pursue criminal charges against the sheriff’s office if the jail retaliates against Willis for filing the lawsuit.