Imagine being arrested and jailed even though you haven’t committed a crime. That’s what happened to one Shelby County man. The problem? That $10-million court computer system that went online a year ago.
There aren’t as many problems, but it’s still not working the way it’s supposed to.
The Local I-Team was the first to tell you about people getting lost in the jail for weeks because of bugs in the new computer system. Shelby County isn’t talking because of a federal lawsuit filed by people who were wrongfully detained at the jail. But off camera, county employees tell the Local I-Team there are still problems.
An East Memphis businessman discovered that the hard way.
“This is proof positive sitting right here that you can go to jail when you did nothing directly, because of the computer system,” said Scott Turnage.
Turnage ended up at the jail after being stopped for going eleven miles over the speed limit.
“There is no way that should have happened,” said Turnage. The mix-up stems from a disputed $300 medical bill. The hospital sued him. At some point, a judge signed paperwork ordering him to appear in court. Even though he later paid the bill, the problem arose when the county switched to the new computer system. A warrant was mistakenly issued for his arrest.
“I got arrested for a warrant that turns out to not exist,” said Turnage. “There’s zero excuses for why it happened.” According to a federal lawsuit, Turnage spent 80 hours locked up at 201 Poplar.
“The bottom line is we have now a system that everyone is struggling against, and it’s not making things easier. It’s made things a little more difficult, and that was not what was promised, and that’s not what should happen when you spend this much money,” said attorney Josh Spickler.
Spickler says he experiences issues with the county’s computer system on a regular basis. “We find mistakes quite often. We find the clerks offices can’t always give us the information accurately, that they used to be able to. They are struggling with this as well.”
Some of the other problems still occurring:
The criminal court clerk told the Local I-Team he is unable to distribute $4-million to local agencies – money collected in court costs and fees. He says because of the computer system, he cannot figure out how the money should be allocated.
Lawyers and county employees say the computer system cannot handle generating complete reports about the jail population, or case and court information needed by lawyers and judges. It’s information that used to be easily available before the computer upgrade.
And lawyers tell the Local I-Team the system is still generating inaccurate information about warrants and inmate records.
“Going forward, we still have a problem of an inefficient system. Looking backwards, we had a lot of people who lost a lot by being improperly detained,” said Spickler.
“In my case, I didn’t do anything, and I got my rights absolutely stomped on,” said Turnage. He feels lucky he had an attorney to help clear up the mistake and get him released. “If I hadn’t had someone interacting on my behalf, who knows how long is a been down there.”
Turnage is concerned about others that don’t have the same resources. “If it happens to me,” he says, “… it could happen to absolutely anybody.”
Remember, Turnage’s situation was a civil matter, a dispute over a hospital bill, and there was nothing criminal about it.
Even though the county isn’t commenting, people say it’s not has bad is it was compared to a year ago, but clearly, there are still problems.