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DOC insists it's following the law
State corrections officials respond to lawsuit seeking inmate files of Barksdale, others

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

State corrections officials responded to allegations made in a lawsuit over withholding inmate files by saying, "We are being sued for following the law."

Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett made the comment in response to the Southern Center for Human Rights lawsuit filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court on behalf of Farron Barksdale's family and other inmates.

Center attorney Sarah Geraghty said the open records act lawsuit against DOC Commissioner Richard Allen includes requests for reports related to the death of Barksdale at Kilby Correctional Facility. It also asks for documents related to alleged assaults and inmate deaths at Donaldson Correctional Facility.

The center said there has been an "epidemic of inmate violence" at Donaldson.

'Simply not correct'

Corbett said allegations that DOC has refused to cooperate and that no statute prohibits public disclosure of inmate documents are "simply not correct."

"In fact, there are both federal and state laws that restrict our ability to release certain documents without court order," he said.

Corbett said federal law protects inmates' medical records and that under Alabama law, law enforcement's investigative reports, records and writings are privileged.

In addition, a 1979 attorney general's opinion provides that in the absence of a court order, people or agencies other than criminal justice officials should not receive inmates' files, Corbett said.

Geraghty said she doesn't have problems getting inmate files in her state. The center's headquarters is in Atlanta.

In a response to an area newspaper editorial, Allen said DOC has no interest in concealing information regarding Barksdale.

Barksdale, 32, pleaded guilty to capital murder for the January 2004 shooting deaths of Athens police Sgt. Larry Russell and officer Tony Mims. His attorneys said he was a paranoid schizophrenic, but state doctors determined he was mentally competent to stand trial.

Barksdale received life without possibility of parole. Limestone County transported Barksdale to Kilby on Aug. 8.

Limestone Sheriff Mike Blakely said Barksdale was in good health before his transfer.

Kilby sent Barksdale to a Montgomery hospital Aug. 11 after finding him unconscious in his cell. He never regained consciousness and died Aug. 20 when his family opted to remove him from life support.

DOC officials said he had unexplained bruising but speculated his death could have been due to heat-related problems or a respiratory infection. A preliminary autopsy said the cause of death is "pending." The autopsy is not complete but is one record the state will have to make available to the public upon request.

Allen said that before Barksdale's death and pursuant to the protections of a court order, DOC allowed people designated by the family, including a hired forensic pathologist, to observe Barksdale's medical care at Baptist Hospital.

The pathologist was aware of Barksdale's medical condition and had full access to his medical records, Allen said. This forensic pathologist also viewed the autopsy.

"The final autopsy results are still pending, but the autopsy is a public record and will be released as soon as we receive it," Allen said. "Hopefully, it will provide all of us information concerning the cause of Mr. Barksdale's death."

Allen said in addition to DOC's internal investigation, he has asked the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to investigate because Barksdale was an admitted cop killer.

Allen said DOC is "seeking the truth while following the law."

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