A jail inmate in Burns claims inhumane conditions have made his imprisonment illegal, and that Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward is responsible.

Earlier this year Ward wrote an open letter saying that “our severely outdated county jail is not only underfunded, but is out of compliance with the standards required by law, and has been understaffed for years.”

“I am no longer willing to accept the civil liability associated with the failure to appropriately fund/staff our jail, search and rescue, or law-enforcement services to our community,” Ward wrote in the Burns Times-Herald in April. He has given a resignation date of Jan. 2, 2020. 

In court documents filed last week, Harney County jail inmate Mac Runnels alleges he is confined to a cell that is 6 x 12 feet for 24 hours a day with no exposure to natural light. The complaint claims there is no outdoor exercise area, no nurse available to oversee inmate health and medications and no access to a law library. Runnels is serving an eight-month sentence after pleading guilty to delivery of methamphetamine. 

The sheriff could not immediately be reached for comment. His resignation announcement was triggered by a budget shortfall. Years of bad accounting had been discovered, and a reckoning zeroed out the general fund. Over the summer, the county eliminated three positions in the sheriff’s office, including one in the jail. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated.