Inmate mail issue spawns ACLU lawsuit

Friday, February 14, 2020
Denny Bridges

Trying to put a stop to Putnamville Correctional Facility (PCF) inmates mailing letters laced with illegal substances like fentanyl, Putnam Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges now finds himself the subject of a federal lawsuit.

PCF inmate Joseph E. McDowell is challenging a Jan. 15 ruling signed by Bridges that rejects written filings from the PCF inmates.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana at Terre Haute.

“I haven’t seen it or been served yet,” Judge Bridges told the Banner Graphic, noting that he met with Putnamville Warden Brian Smith Thursday to set up plans for inmates to file petitions via email.

“Of course, the ACLU did not check with me to see what was really going on,” Judge Bridges said. “Instead they file a federal lawsuit against me.”

The mailings became an issue back in the fall, Bridges said.

“Back in November, Department of Correction intelligence people came to me,” he said, explaining that prisoners were sending regular mail out to “mothers, brothers, sisters and friends,” often with a legal mail envelope folded up inside.

Bridges reportedly issued the order after being told by DOC investigators that some court filings were being sent to third parties before being sent to the court.

Recipients of the inmate mail, working with a printer cartridge injected with fentanyl -- a powerful opioid blamed in the death of pop star Michael Jackson among others -- would print out documents and return them in the legal envelope.

The judge said he was concerned court staff and other people would be exposed to the contaminated documents.

“Unbeknownst to us,” Bridges said, “we were handling it and mailing it back to them.”

If the paper documents were mailed back to the prison as legal mail from the courts, the prison staff could not open them, Bridges explained.

Receiving the documents, inmates could rip up the papers to ingest the substances in much the same way they ingest suboxone.

“As far as I know,” Judge Bridges said, “no one has become sick or ill or high or anything else” due to exposure from the tainted documents.

Bridges contacted the Indiana Court Services office in November for guidance, he said, and he was advised not to accept filings from the prison.

Bridges expects to resume receiving inmate filings this coming week or next.

“Hopefully the case will be dismissed,” he said.

He explained that the new system will be set up in much the same way as court filings operate in federal court. Inmates will receive electronic responses.

“We’ll be the only county in the state that lets prisoners file via email,” Judge Bridges added.

Addressing the elaborate nature to which the inmates sometimes go to set up such schemes, the veteran judge and former Indiana state trooper, is not surprised.

“If they just used their skills for good instead of evil, they’d probably be millionaires,” he commented.

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  • Sounds like the issue is, that instead of setting up some sort of screening process to check the mail once they open a letter and realize it's for a case about an inmate, like gloves, chemical test kits, etc., I guess they would just just ignore it and throw it in the garbage or something? If it was you or your loved one you might file a lawsuit too. We can't abuse inmates just because they are in jail.

    -- Posted by Raker on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 11:49 AM
  • They don't have to open it to be exposed, The inmate mails the return envelope to their friend, who laces printer ink with narcotic and mails laced envelope back to inmate. Anyone touching it could overdose.. no offense, I'd rather protect the innocent mail carrier, innocent jail employee, than the one who set it up to get high off fentanyl ink!!!

    -- Posted by tigger47834 on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 3:07 PM
  • Tigger47834, everything you said has nothing to do with this. It sounds like the envelope scheme was to trick the prison into thinking the letter was from the court so they wouldn't open it.

    The clerk's office deciding to ignore any mail received from the prison does NOTHING to stop a citizen from trying to mail drugs to the prison, does not protect any mail carriers or prison staff.

    Read the tribune star article about it, they interviewed the jail staff who say they are still mailing out all mail as they are REQUIRED to do. The tribune star also has a PDF of the actual federal court filing, and the order by Denny Bridges included with it.

    -- Posted by Raker on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 3:48 PM
  • Another quick point, they shouldn't have denied the rights of that man by ignoring his court filings for four months, if they're story is true. I believe the only reason they are trying to rig up some email system now (which isn't available yet) is because they were sued. He would probably still be ignored today.

    -- Posted by Raker on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 4:03 PM
  • And final point, show me an example of a court employee in the U.S. being poisoned by touching papers or mail. Or, an example of a postal worker being hurt by touching mail with drugs in it. I checked google and couldn't find a single news article, and I think those would be some well-reported stories.

    Since when do we pre-emptively take away rights without any incident to justify it, simply on fear? It is curious that Putnam county will be the only county in the state doing this. We surely aren't the only ones at risk.

    In fact, I would like to know the details of the case where an inmate was sent fentanyl-covered court papers that came through the courthouse. Surely he was charged for that, where is the reporting on that, Bannergraphic? Is that not a huge story?

    -- Posted by Raker on Sun, Feb 16, 2020, at 6:24 PM
  • *

    Raker -

    Be careful...

    Reasoning is dangerous, and asking questions makes many uncomfortable. (And they will let you know it.)

    Personally, I like your style. Its nice to see a fellow traveler on this road.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Mon, Feb 17, 2020, at 9:04 AM
  • Dreadpirateroberts, Denny Bridges was clearly wrong for ignoring this inmate's court filings for months. This inmate was not part of a fentanyl scheme. And it sounds like there may be more inmates besides him.

    Why he did it? Out of lack of desire to come up with an alternative plan for inmate filing? Or... there is the possibility this is just an excuse he came up with after the fact to justify it. If he was concerned about fentanyl you think he would have sent out the order back in November when he started ignoring the prison, not in mid January, after he was likely contacted by the attorney inquiring about it. It is possible he had other less noble reasons for ignoring the prison, which is where the facts seem to be pointing.

    There is something about government officials and employees abusing the authority of their jobs, and acting unethically or corruptly, that really bothers me. It makes me want to learn the facts and speak up about it. But I'm not looking for conspiracies. When I hear something that doesn't make sense to me, I want to know more. When the answers don't make sense, then there might be something happening they don't want you to know.

    I'm not so naive to think that officials whose job is spending all day talking with each other and everyone, planning and strategizing, looking out for each other and wanting to protect their jobs, are all above telling lies and scheming for each other. There are a countless news stories that say otherwise, including Putnam county's recent past.

    -- Posted by Raker on Mon, Feb 17, 2020, at 11:27 AM
  • *

    Raker - Well said. I commend you for it.

    Perhaps more will ask questions some day.

    Maybe enough will ask questions to keep politicians almost honest...

    We can always hope anyway.

    -- Posted by dreadpirateroberts on Mon, Feb 17, 2020, at 1:13 PM
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