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Corrections files motion to drop Barksdale suit
Mother seeking records on inmate's suspicious death

By Desiree Hunter
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Department of Corrections filed a motion Wednesday asking that a lawsuit filed by the mother of Farron Barksdale, an inmate who died under suspicious circumstances in August, be dismissed.

Corrections Commissioner Richard Allen, who is named as a defendant, listed 11 reasons why he says the suit should be dropped, including saying he is entitled to immunity, inmates' files are not public record and incident reports by correctional officers are protected.

The motion, which was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, was first reported by The News Courier in Athens.

Mary Barksdale sued Allen in September after he refused to release records about her son's death. Farron Barksdale, 32, pleaded guilty to killing two Athens police officers in 2004.

He suffered from mental illness and was found unresponsive in his cell at Kilby Correctional Facility on Aug. 11, when prison officials said he had a high fever, symptoms of systemic infection and marks or bruises on his pelvis.

Never regaining consciousness, he died Aug. 20 at a Montgomery hospital after family members agreed that he be taken off life support.

Huntsville attorney Jake Watson, who had represented Barksdale, said Wednesday's development was not unexpected and they plan to file a response in the next couple of weeks.

"We think the public and the family has a right to know what happened to Farron and at least what their investigation shows," he said. "Their position is not one that I think is in keeping with democracy."

A message left with corrections spokesman Brian Corbett was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Watson filed the lawsuit along with the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of Mary Barksdale and six inmates who say they were injured while being held at Donaldson Correctional Facility.

The suit is also seeking documents in those inmates' cases.

Allen contends the information requested does not fall under the state's Open Records Act and is protected and privileged.

He also argues the information would "impact the security and safety of inmates and correctional officers" and information in the witness statements could lead to disturbances in the system.

"Inmates would retaliate against those that had made statements as to an incident," he wrote. "Disturbances would occur in the public as family members, friends, gang members, etc. retaliated against those persons in the free world that had made statements as to an incident.

"There would also be a chilling effect on the investigative process by the correctional officers if they believed that every incident report was subjected to the Open Records Act," Allen said.

Watson said Mary Barksdale deserves to know what happened to her son and is not asking for all of the department's information, "we'd be happy with them releasing their complete investigation and giving us some answers."

"It seems to me there's a whole society incarcerated and government has taken a position we don't have a right to know and that's alarming," he said. "I think people need to know what's going on behind prison walls — I don't think that's too much to ask as taxpayers."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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