Judge rules City of Portsmouth can’t condemn city jail, must repair for safety

Posted at 8:45 AM, Jan 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-09 18:33:20-05

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - A judge ruled Thursday afternoon that the City of Portsmouth cannot condemn the Portsmouth City Jail and instead needs to make the appropriate repairs.

Photo: News 3 reporter Nana-Séntuo Bonsu

The judge called for another hearing in 60 days to determine if Sheriff Michael Moore will be ordered to send inmates to Hampton Roads Regional Jail unless both parties can come to a mutual agreement.

"It saddens him that he's had to take it on in this fashion to force the city to do what the city should have just done," said Jon Babineau, an attorney for Sheriff Michael Moore.

The legal battle between the city and the sheriff began back in July when building inspectors put condemned signs on the Portsmouth City Jail and several other civic center buildings stating they were unsafe and should be vacated immediately.

Moore sued the city, and the signs were removed.

The City of Portsmouth sued the sheriff in December to try to force him to send inmates to Hampton Roads Regional Jail instead of the Portsmouth City Jail.

According to Assistant City Attorney Robert Merhinge, the city is currently under a 20-year contract with the HRRJ, but as of December the jail has only 43 inmates that the sheriff has sent over. This means that the city is spending more than $16,000 a day -- nearly $6 million a year -- for empty beds.

Moore pushed back, saying he had concerns over safety at the HRRJ. A 2018 report from the Department of Justice found unconstitutional conditions at the jail following the deaths of several inmates.

Attorneys for the city did not comment on Thursday's ruling.