Activists want jail reform in Clark County after former inmate was stuck with big bill

CLARK COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Activists are demanding change as a Kentucky man continues a legal battle over a $4,000 charge for a stay behind bars.

David Allen Jones left the Clark County Detention Center years ago as an innocent man but was left with a big bill, and one Winchester-native says the problem hasn’t gone away.

“The legal system is a system,” Activist Geoff Sebesta said. “It has a gravity of its own. It has a logic of its own, and once you are caught in it you will keep getting pulled in and pulled in.”

Sebesta was born and raised in Clark County and he says there are major issues within the jail system.

One of his main concerns is requiring people wrongfully imprisoned to pay a fee for their incarceration.  Sebesta says the Jones case is a prime example.

Jones was jailed in 2013 after being accused of downloading child pornography, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. The report says he was freed 14 months later after further investigation proved there was no evidence of child porn on any of Jones’ electronic devices.  The prosecution acknowledged that Jones’ IP could have been hacked to wrongly trace the criminal activity to him, according to the report.  He was released from jail.

Jones is suing Clark County and its jailer, Frank Doyle, asking that his bill be dismissed.  The case has gone all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

“The Jones case illustrates the problem, which is that the jailer has to seek the revenue,” Sebesta said.

Sebesta, who ran for office in 2019, says he’s studied policies in Clark County and around the state and knows the tough position jailers find themselves in. He says it’s especially true in his hometown because the jail is one of the only facilities in the state to require inmates to pay for their stay.

“The current regime that has taken over has inherited this system of revenue,” Sebesta said. “They don’t see any reason to not keep the machine running.”

Jeff Mando, the attorney representing Clark County in the Jones case, issued a statement to ABC 36 News:  “There has been no determination that Mr. Jones was “wrongfully arrested.”‘

He continued, “The booking and per diem fees that the Clark Co Jail charged Mr. Jones were specifically authorized by statute (KRS 411.265). And, multiple federal and state courts have held that Jails have the right to collect those fees. In fact, the federal courts in Mr. Jones case ruled the Jail had the right to asses and collect those fees.  Third, the Jail gave Mr. Jones a bill when he was released on bond , four months before the Clark Cir. Ct dismissed his criminal charges. Other than give Mr. Jones a bill when he bonded out as the statute allows, the Jail never took any steps to collect on it. Indeed, Mr. Jones never told the Jail that his charges had been dismissed.”

In another statement to ABC 36 News, Clark County Attorney William Elkins said:

“I feel some security saying that Clark County’s policies, and those in surrounding counties,  avoid wrongful arrest and in doing so avoid the additional problem of making financial charges against those who could otherwise be wrongfully arrested. Because, no system of justice is perfect, it may be that persons may be unnecessarily arrested throughout the Commonwealth, but most people would not knowingly participate in the matter.”

Sebesta says that’s why he wants to work on it even beyond wrongful arrests. He says not having a statute of limitations is also costly.

Sebesta says he was arrested in 2019 for a warrant from 1999 for speeding – something he says he thought was taken care of.

He says that one night in jail cost him nearly $2,000, but says his lawyer fought it.

Sebesta says he knows there are many Kentuckians arrested for similar offenses and paying the cost decades later.

“This is something that the legislature could absolutely fix,” Sebesta said.

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