Gibson County Jail inmate sues sheriff over living conditions

An inmate is calling for changes at the Gibson County Correctional Complex in Trenton, complaining of unsafe living conditions and being denied access to court documents.

In a lawsuit filed in the Western District of Tennessee on May 10, Thomas Brandon Karnes is seeking $100,000 for mental and emotional damages and $100,000 for prison construction for failure to inspect. The handwritten complaint was filed without an attorney representing the inmate.

Karnes wrote that the jail is unsafe for many inmates, naming Gibson County Sheriff Paul Thomas and other jail officials in the lawsuit. Thomas faces multiple charges in two Tennessee counties. He was accused of profiting from an inmate work program.

Records show the Gibson County Jail passed inspections in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

A call seeking comment from Gibson County Mayor Nelson Cunningham was not returned.

“I don’t trust anyone here.”

In his complaint, Karnes said latches are welded onto all I-Pod cell doors and can only be manually locked from the outside.

“I don’t feel safe here,” Karnes wrote in his complaint. “It has affected me mentally and emotionally. I don't trust anyone here at this facility.

“This is a fire hazard given that they are only accessible from the outside,” Karnes said in his complaint. “It would put the lives of 26 inmates at risk if the facility caught fire.”

William Wall, executive director of the Tennessee Corrections Institute, said prisons are inspected once a year to ensure they meet the state's minimum standards.

All prisons must have manual controls of electronic locking systems, or if a prison does not have the funds for electronic locks, it can use keyed locks.

Karnes said in his complaint that the windows are welded, the tables are rusted and painted and are not stainless steel.

Wall said the rusted tables are a maintenance issue and would have been flagged during an inspection. There was no mention of rusty tables during an inspection on April 16, when Karnes was allegedly detained.

“The inspection found that this facility meets all applicable minimum standards,” the inspection report states.

Although the jail has passed four of the last five inspections, records show two violations during a 2021 inspection.

During the 2021 visit, inspectors said the Gibson County Correctional Complex did not meet minimum standards for inmate supervision and that medical and dental instruments and supplies were not properly stored or inventoried. The prison had to be re-inspected and approved.

Inspectors Dara Keeton and Miller Meadows noted that inmate monitoring records were inconsistent during the 2021 monitoring. Facility staff are supposed to personally observe inmates at least once an hour, and more frequently for violent inmates , suicidal or having special problems and needs.

Karnes said there was no heat or cold together, no visible exterior lights, no skylights, no bedtimes and the air filters were clogged. He wrote that he was repeatedly refused to speak with the sheriff.

Wall said Gibson County meets the minimum standard for natural light.

“Does that mean there have to be skylights and windows in the living room and in the cell? No,” Wall said. “The standard is if they are in their cell or in the day room, can they see the difference between daylight and darkness.”

Wall said there are no daylight requirements for temporary holding cells or in facilities that predate those standards.

“I feel like my civil rights have been violated.”

In 2018, TCI revised the minimum standards for local adult correctional facilities. Gibson County is expected to meet the updated standards, being a Type 1 facility built in 2006.

“I feel that my civil rights have been violated,” Karnes wrote, claiming that the jail and sheriff's office had denied him access to courts and services as he attempted to pursue legal action. justice in his case.

The inmate said the prison refused him two stamped envelopes to send documents.

“If he says that, it will require follow-up,” Wall said. “We take into account that when we go in, detainees are required, especially in indigent cases, to have free legal access to write to their lawyers or anything like that. They should have the possibility of obtaining stamps, of writing to their loved ones.

Karnes said in his letter that he was repeatedly refused to speak to investigators about a case he had information about. Karnes is incarcerated until his release on June 30.

Capt. Christy Combs, Sgt. Amber Galloway, Correctional Officer Paige Roberts, Prison Solicitor Judi Sherwood and Deputy Chief Danny Lewis.

Thomas has served as Gibson County sheriff since 2014.

In Gibson County, he was charged with 18 counts of official misconduct after search warrants were served by the FBI at Thomas' home and other locations in September 2022. He is expected to be arraigned on July 10.

The indictment outlines six Class E felony counts alleging that Thomas used the labor or employment of six different inmates for his own benefit.

Other charges include six inmates and the use of labor to benefit Alliance Staffing Group in Milan, a hiring program for incarcerated people created by Thomas and others.

Other charges allege that the six detainees were not properly guarded to prevent their escape.

In Davidson County, Thomas was charged with four related counts. He is expected to appear in a Nashville court later in July.

Contact reporter Craig Shoup by email at [email protected] and on X @Craig_Shoup. To support his work, purchase a digital subscription at

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