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Man claims he was held in Oklahoma jail for months after his sentence expired

A Texas man is suing the Pittsburg County jail, the Oklahoma Corrections Department and others after he sat in jail for months following his scheduled release, court records show.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: February 16, 2013 at 1:32 am •  Published: February 17, 2013

A Texas man is suing the Pittsburg County jail, the Oklahoma Corrections Department and others after he sat in jail for months past his scheduled release, court records show.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the Correction Department's county jail backlog issue, a mounting threat that costs the prison system roughly $20 million each year.

The lawsuit, filed last year in federal court, was ordered Monday to proceed with a scheduling conference, which will be held in June unless the case is resolved or dismissed before that time.

James C. Payne, who filed the lawsuit in October, claims in his lawsuit he was sentenced to a year behind bars for stalking and that he was to be released June 11, 2011.

Court records show that Payne has an Amarillo, Texas, address, and that he was convicted of felony stalking and violating a protective order in 2010.

In the suit, Payne's attorneys wrote that Missi Eldridge, the jail's administrator, and other guards laughed at the inmate in mid-June 2011 when he told them his release date had passed.

One of the guards also made a statement that could be linked to county jail backlog, a term prison officials use to describe the practice of housing prisoners bound for state facilities in county jails, Payne's attorneys allege in the suit.

“(The guard) frequently laughed at the Plaintiff's complaints about his prolonged incarceration and even stated the county made money from the Corrections Department by keeping the Plaintiff jailed,” Payne's attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.

The Corrections Department pays counties $27 per day to house inmates who've been sentenced by district judges to terms in state prisons. The daily rate is set by state law.

An answer to Payne's lawsuit filed by Eldridge's attorneys states that the jail administrator did speak with the inmate about his lawsuit but that she never laughed at him.

As for the June 11, 2011, release date, Eldridge's answer in court does little to resolve the questions in the lawsuit.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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