5 disciplined over jail breach

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Five Cape Girardeau County Jail employees were disciplined -- including one termination and one demotion -- as a result of a security breach early this month, Sheriff John Jordan said Friday.

A sergeant was reduced in rank to deputy and a deputy was fired, Jordan said. The other three jailers were each issued letters of reprimand that will remain in their personnel files for at least a year, he said.

On April 1, two male inmates being held on federal charges moved from their cell block to one used by female inmates. One of the two male inmates had a girlfriend who was also being held on federal charges. The male prisoners were in the female area for four hours before being discovered.

The disciplinary actions were necessary to show that serious mistakes have consequences, Jordan said.

"That is just part of keeping your house in order," Jordan said. "The human error part we have addressed."

As a result of the breach, the U.S. Marshals Service removed 19 of the 29 federal prisoners being held in the jail at the time. A new digital security camera system is being installed in the jail along with mirrors to show blind spots and additional training for the remaining jailers, Jordan said.

The marshals service must certify the upgrades before increasing the number of federal prisoners at the jail. Jordan said he hopes to complete that process by mid-May.

Jordan declined to name any of the employees on advice from Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle's office. "If you damage someone's reputation, you can open yourself up for litigation," Jordan said. "We were advised not to release the names at this time."

The disciplinary actions were taken within a week of the security breach, Jordan said.

State law is unclear on whether public employees subject to disciplinary actions such as those taken by Jordan must be disclosed, said Jean Maneke, an attorney who advises the Missouri Press Association on state Open Records Law issues.

When a public body such as a school board or city council votes to discipline an employee, the vote must be disclosed within 72 hours. But the law also bars disclosure of personnel records that identify an individual, she said, and Jordan wasn't required to take his action before any public body.

The county is losing almost $1,000 a day because the 19 federal prisoners were removed. The federal government pays Cape Girardeau County $50.82 per inmate per day to house inmates awaiting trial. Payments for boarding federal prisoners are the main source of money for paying the county's $5.5 million debt on the 150-bed jail.

"I spoke to the local marshal yesterday, and we have got some issues worked out to their satisfaction," Jordan said.

The prisoners moved to the female cell block when another inmate distracted a deputy by asking for his razor. Prisoners must be allowed off their cell block to approach a central booth for such hygiene items, and when the door opened the two male prisoners crept along the floor. A female inmate then asked for a hygiene item, and the prisoners darted into the women's cell area.

All three prisoners were removed from the Cape Girardeau jail and sent to separate jails in nearby counties.

Other steps to improve security include requiring jailers to stand when inmates approach the central booth and studying whether a new kind of razor that cannot be manipulated into a weapon should be adopted, Jordan said.

Although Jordan decided to remove only one employee over the security breach, he has lost other employees from the jail division despite large pay increases funded by a new sales tax. The first paychecks with the increased salaries were issued Friday.

The pay raise was designed to stem high turnover rates in the department.

"We have had a couple of people leave this month and went to other jobs," Jordan said. "You always have some people who are leaving no matter how much you pay."

There has been no turnover among deputies assigned to road patrols or investigations, Jordan said.


335-6611, extension 126

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