Jasper County officials accused of violating 13th Amendment - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Jasper County officials accused of violating 13th Amendment

By Mike McDaniel - bio | email | Twitter

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Flanked by his attorneys, Keith Gregg is putting Jasper County and several elected officials on notice, which could result in a sevem-figure lawsuit.

"We do, at this point, expect one to be filed," said Rhea Sheldon.

Sheldon, along with Seth Hunter and Joseph Parker are representing Gregg and say their client's civil rights were violated while he was unlawfully used as a servant while in the Jasper County Jail.

Gregg was convicted of forgery and false pretenses and sent to the Parchman State Penitentiary in 2003, but was later transferred to Jasper County as a trustee in 2004. It was there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where Gregg's attorneys say county officials discovered he had an HVAC and electrical contractors licence, which is how he made a living before serving time.

"Besides doing work, during the day time for the county which would be part of his trustee duties, he was taken to private locations for various county officials to do their private personal contracting work," said Hunter.

"I think that when they found out he had those licenses, they saw a cheap way to have work preformed for them," said Sheldon.

According to the notice, Gregg was checked out of the jail by various county officials to do private work in addition to his trustee duties. Hunter says his client was treated as a slave and the work continued for several years.

"That's first off not the purpose of a trustee, a trustee is to do, obviously they have labor to do for the county, but these people were taking him to their houses to do HVAC and electrical work," said Hunter.

The notice names several potential defendants including the board of supervisors, the sheriff's department, Sheriff Kenneth Cross, Beat 2 supervisor Henry Hayes, Chancery Clerk Barbara Ravenhorst, and the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Calls to Jasper County Attorney Rickey Ruffin and Sheriff Kenneth Cross were not returned.

"He [Gregg] was working for people who were using their officials capacity to take him to their personal residences and other properties to do work that they would otherwise have to pay somebody else to do," said Hunter.

While doing the work, Gregg's attorneys say he was bribed with prescription pain medication and was even threatened by county officials.

"He was told the whole time if you tell anybody you're doing this for us, we're going to make sure you go back to parchman," said Hunter.

Gregg's attorneys say he kept track best he could of the hours he worked and after being released, decided to come forward. The notice claims Gregg is owed $64,500 in unpaid wages, as well as $435,500 in areas such as distress and civil rights violations. On top of that, add in another half-a-million for punitive damages, and Gregg will settle the matter for $1 million.

"It is very possible that other inmates have gone through the same thing that Mr. Gregg has and we certainly do not want that to happen," said Sheldon.

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