Computer Trapped People in Jail for Weeks, Lawsuit Claims

Tennessee inmates say a county ignored ‘dire warnings’ that its computer system to store arrest files and other court documents would not work.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

David Andrew Beck was supposed to be held for only two days by the Shelby County Correctional Center in Tennessee. He was in custody for a potential parole violation but because the jail’s computer system was allegedly not working, Beck wasn’t released for another two weeks.

Beck is one of 30 people suing the county and Tyler Technologies as part of a new $144 million class action lawsuit accusing the county of unlawful detention and recklessly implementing a new computer tracking system by ignoring “dire warnings” that the program would not work.

Several of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were held for several days and sometimes weeks longer than they were legally supposed to be held after being arrested for minor infractions and having not been convicted of any crimes.

Tyler Technologies said in a statement: “Two lawsuits have been filed in Shelby County with the same allegations. In the first one filed earlier this year, we are waiting for a dismissal. In the one filed this month in the same court, which makes the same arguments, we have not been served and therefore can’t comment.”

Shelby County had been using one computer system to store arrest files and other court documents for about 20 years before shutting it down last November. The county then switched to a paper system for about a week while transitioning to the new Odyssey Case Management System, which the lawsuit claims has a history of processing glitches. The new system was implemented so more government agencies could share access to criminal information easier, according to a November 2016 press release.

“We expected problems but we didn’t expect problems of this magnitude,” said local judge Bill Anderson last year, according to the suit. “Where people remain and languish in jail without even getting a bond set, without having court appearance set and us not even knowing how to go about solving the problem... How do you lose somebody in the system for three weeks?”

Plaintiff Lakisha McCoy claims the system caused a warrant for her arrest to be acted on multiple times after she paid her bond for an alleged parole violation and was released from police custody. However the computer system allegedly never registered her release. A few days later police were back “banging on her window,” according to the suit, and tried to re-arrest her several times.

The Odyssey system has been blamed for mistakes in other states, as well. In 2014, a jail in Indiana mistakenly released three inmates because of a processing error after recently switching over to Odyssey system. The same system in California was also blamed for causing wrongful arrests and keeping people in jail too long.

“They should have known [about the system’s problems in other states] but pushed it through anyway,” said Steve Wilson, one of the lawyers bringing the suit. “The system was not ready, the system had known flaws which would or could result in these very things happening, and in fact they did happen. It was reckless indifference for the consequences.”

Shelby County public affairs officer Steve Shular said the county still uses the system and that while they initially encountered “a few bumps in the road,” they have a team of people on hand to address any problems that may come up with the system.

Wilson said that, while he is unaware of any “ongoing constitutional violations” associated with the system, it’s still worse than it was before.

“Next time they implement the system,” Wilson said. “Whether it’s in Shelby County or any other county, that they actually perform greater due diligence and don’t casually disregard problems that could destroy people’s lives essentially by ending up in jail for a week and end up losing their jobs and all the other 101 different problems that come with being lost in a jail for a week.”

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Correction, 11/15/17: A previous version of this article said the system in Maine was blamed for wrongful arrests and said Odyssey maker Tyler was sued in other states. We regret the errors.