Software Blamed for Prolonged Jail Stays

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (CN) – A class of arrestees claims a new computer system implemented in Memphis kept them detained longer than they should have been, echoing complaints in Texas and California about the same software.

Cortez D. Brown, Deontae Tate and Jeremy S. Melton say they were jailed in Shelby County, Tenn., in November 2016 and were detained for days after they should have been released because of an October 2016 software switch.

The trio sued Shelby County, Tyler Technologies Inc., Sheriff Bill Oldham and three other county employees in Memphis federal court on Monday, claiming the county ignored “dire warnings” about its new Odyssey computer software, a platform developed by Tyler.

“The county’s unreasonably inefficient implementation of the Odyssey system constituted deliberate indifference with respect to plaintiffs and the class members thereafter by causing inmates to linger for days and weeks in the jail in direct violation of their constitutional rights,” the complaint states.

According to the class-action lawsuit, Brown was arrested on Nov. 6 on a petition for revocation of his suspended sentence and was taken into custody. A judge dismissed the charges the next day, but Brown says he was not released until a week later.

Tate claims he was jailed the same day as Brown for failure to appear for a court date for a suspended license charge.

“At the time of his arrest, plaintiff possessed $255 in cash and, therefore, plaintiff Tate instructed officers at the jail to deducted $100 from his property so as to post bond and secure his release,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff Tate was repeatedly told that he was not in the computer system and thus that he could not post bond. Plaintiff Tate lingered in the jail until November 11, 2016, at which time defendants finally allowed him to post bond and released him.”

Melton was arrested Nov. 10 on a misdemeanor charge of possession of a controlled substance, according to the complaint. He says his charges were dismissed four days later but he was held another four days because his dismissal order was not in the computer system.

Brown, Tate and Melton say Shelby County’s use of Odyssey has deprived hundreds of arrestees of their constitutional rights.

“Defendants, with deliberate indifference, failed and refused to process and arraign arrestees so that their bonds could even be set, causing them to be detained for days and even weeks without a bond setting. The county further failed to release prisoners whose cases had been dismissed, detaining them for days and weeks before determining that there were court orders dismissing the charges against them,” the complaint states. “The county’s deliberate inaction caused many persons who had been arrested and released to be re-arrested on the same warrant, again in violation of their constitutional rights.”

The proposed class seeks at least $5.4 million in compensatory damages for each class members for claims of negligence and civil rights violations. The arrestees are represented by Frank Watson III of Watson Burns, Joseph Ozment and Lorna McClusky of Massey McClusky, all based in Memphis.

The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond Tuesday to an emailed request for comment.

The Odyssey system has reportedly caused problems in other states as well. Robert Oyung, director of information technology for the California Judicial Council Technology Committee, said in November that courts already have reported 52 major issues with the new platform.

The issues lie mostly with general functionality, interfacing with the Department of Motor Vehicles or implementing specific case types.  For example, Alameda County Superior Court has reported problems with clerks trying to enter data into the new system, which it attributes to an unwieldy interface.

Monday’s Tennessee lawsuit also notes alleged problems with Odyssey in Ector County and Cameron County, Texas.

In 2011, Ector County experienced data loss and other problems so significant that it refused to pay Tyler Technologies, according to the complaint. Three years later, Cameron County reportedly had problems tracking its inmates because of Odyssey.

Despite the reported issues, San Diego announced a $6.8 million deal in 2014 to implement Tyler’s Odyssey software. The contract breaks down to a one-time license fee of just over $3 million plus $3.7 million for data conversion and training, according to a court spokesperson. The agreement also calls for a yearly maintenance fee of $640,000.