Judge: Jail expansion can move forward

BKV Group image: Above, shown is the northwest view of the Option 1 jail expansion design next to the Brookings County Courthouse. It features several different exits for people coming in for breathalyzer tests and officers bringing in inmates and a large garage for sheriff’s department vehicles.

Ruling in favor of County in lawsuit

BROOKINGS – A judge has ruled in Brookings County’s favor in the lawsuit between the County and City of Brookings over the proposed Brookings County Detention Center expansion.

The expansion can proceed, Circuit Judge Kent Shelton said last week. 

Brookings County appealed resolutions 19-055 and 19-053, passed by the Brookings City Council in July 2019, that barred the County from expanding the jail. The City resolutions required the County to obtain a building permit for the project and concluded that the proposed expansion would encroach upon, damage or destroy the historic Brookings County Courthouse and that there were “feasible and prudent alternatives” to the proposed jail expansion.

Shelton, of Beadle County, said in his determination brief that, “After reviewing and interpreting the law, this court finds that County is the appropriate governmental authority to make the written determination, based upon all relevant factors, that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the proposal and that all the possible planning has been done to minimize harm to the historic property. 

“County is the entity undertaking the project, which is a necessary governmental function, and therefore, County need not seek a building permit from City. Additionally, City never properly appealed the County’s determination as required by statute.”

Shelton said that the City overstepped in believing that it was the determining body on whether or not the County was making the right choices. The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) – a nonauthoritative branch of government – disapproved of the jail expansion, stating that it would encroach upon and damage the county courthouse. The City used this finding for one of its own reasonings to become the determining body of government. 

In addition to the SHPO issues, city councilors believed there were better alternatives for the jail construction and used this additional reasoning to stand against the County.

Shelton referred to this use of language as “misguided” and “unwarranted.”

“Further, ‘we will not construe a statute to arrive at a strained, impractical, or illogical conclusion,’” Shelton wrote.

Shelton said that the City could not require a permit for the County “because the construction and operation of a county jail is a necessary governmental function…” under SDCL 24-11-2 and 7-25-3. This means that a city cannot impede, oversee or rule over the inherent functions of a county, and vice versa.

The City could not have prevented the County from expanding the jail even if the City had appealed the County’s November 2018 decision to move forward on the jail, Shelton wrote. There is a 30-day window for appeals when any legal decision is made by either the County or City, the City did not appeal within the allotted time.

County Commissioner Lee Ann Pierce said in an interview with The Brookings Register that she was very pleased with the ruling and noted that each point made by the City was refuted by Shelton.

Brookings County Sheriff Marty Stanwick said bidding for the estimated $15.3 million jail expansion will begin this spring, but the anticipated end date for construction is “about 22 months away.” 

Stanwick also expressed his concern for inmates during the COVID-19 outbreak in how difficult it will be to quarantine them. He said that in the new expansion, responding to pandemics will be easier for officers, inmates and the public. 

In an email to the Register, Brookings City Manager Paul Briseno said that Brookings City Council has not been able to meet to decide whether to appeal the ruling due to the COVID-19 shutdown. The city has 30 days to appeal the court’s ruling.

Scheduled for next Tuesday’s Brookings County Commission meeting is action to approve Agreement No. 20-14: an American Institute of Architects agreement between Brookings County and Henry Carlson Construction, LLC for the Brookings County Detention Center Expansion and Remodel Project.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]

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