McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

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November 16, 2012

Former inmate files suit against the Department of Corrections and Pittsburg County

McALESTER — A former inmate of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections is suing the State of Oklahoma the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and several Pittsburg County officials after he was allegedly held jail three months past his release date.

According to court records, former inmate James Christopher Payne, convicted of one count of felony stalking in January of 2010, has filed the lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma Department of Corrections; Pittsburg County Commissioners, Kevin Smith, Ronnie Young, Gene Rogers and the Pittsburg County Sheriffs Department, Sheriff Joel Kerns and Jail Administrator Missy Eldridge.

Payne is seeking more than $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, according to the suit.

PIttsburg Sheriff Joel Kerns said Payne was a still property of the Department of Corrections when he was being held at the jail.

“We just hold the inmates for the Department of Corrections,” Kerns said. “I can’t release an inmate until the DOC gives us the paper work.”

Payne was originally incarcerated in 2010 for one count of felony stalking for posting a picture of a plaster cast of a woman’s face with a knife through it on MySpace and stating repeatedly that he is going to kill her. He also allegedly repeatedly stalked the woman between Dec. 8 2009 and Jan. 12, 2010, according to court documents. He was sentenced to five years with all but one year suspended.

Payne filed the lawsuit in September after the State of Oklahoma Department of Corrections denied his Governmental Tort Claim in March, the claim was denied as to county defendants because the didn’t respond, according to court records.

In the suit filed in Pittsburg County Court, Payne states he was allegedly incarcerated at the Pittsburg County Jail for three months beyond his release date.

“(Payne) was to be released on June 11, 2011... but was kept in the jail until Sept. 6, 2011,” according to the lawsuit, “Mr. Payne was incarcerated wrongfully and unlawfully and deprived of his liberty and freedom for nearly for nearly three months beyond his release date.”

 Pittsburg County Commissioner Kevin Smith said he knew nothing about the case except that it was referred to the Association of County Commissioners defense attorney Weldon Poe of Colin Zorn & Wagoner in Oklahoma City.

Poe said his firm is representing the county officials and that this was an unusual case.

“This is the first circumstance of someone held past their release date) that I am aware of,” Poe said.

Contact Jeanne LeFlore at jleflore@mcalesternews.com.

 

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