‘The truth will come out:’ Gov. Justice changes tune on SRJ probe

Exhibit included in federal civil rights lawsuit
Exhibit included in federal civil rights lawsuit(WVVA News)
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 9:15 PM EDT
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PRINCETON, W.Va. (WVVA) - Months after declaring his confidence in the outcome of a state-led investigation into allegations of mistreatment at Southern Regional Jail, Governor Jim Justice’s opinion of the probe’s findings appeared to have shifted on Friday.

“If you just let this play out, the truth will come out,” he said during a visit to Princeton. “I’m not just going to go along.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the West Virginia Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, concluded in April accusations of, “water deprivation, failure to provide toilet paper and inmates having to sleep on hard floors without a mattress” to be without merit.

Justice, who ordered the agency conduct the internal investigation, did not publicly question its assessment.

“I am really, really confident that we’ve gotten to the bottom of it,” he said at the time. “But absolutely, we take stuff like this really seriously.”

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed in September on behalf of hundreds of current and former SRJ inmates, however, doubled down on accusations of ill-treatment of inmates, referencing a lack of water and food access and overcrowded conditions, among other allegations.

When confronted on Friday about the class action complaint, the governor referred back to the DHS probe.

“The very people, it’s their house and everything — they don’t want to maybe find something bad within their own house,” Justice said. “They come back with this sterling report that everything’s okay. But, I’ve got to depend on my secretaries and all the different people, to some degree.”

Photos and video taken by correctional officers were included as exhibits in the lawsuit. Justice said he had not seen the video.

In addition to the visual exhibits, an internal memo from November 2021 was attached to the suit. The note from a member of the jail’s staff reported water issues, broken windows and water leaks. The memo was not included in the response to WVVA’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in March, which sought documentation relating to the provision of water to inmates during the pandemic.