Escambia County releases jail report summary

County Attorney Alison Rogers has released a summary of attorney Mr. Fleming’s summary of findings related to his interviews with employees associated with the April 30 jail explosion.

“Upon further diligent review of legal authority and caselaw, it appears the work product privilege with regards to solely this report was waived by the verbal presentation at the agenda review session on Thursday, August 21,” said Rogers. “Mr. Fleming has provided two versions of the report and both are provided here in totality.”

Fleming concluded after his interviews that the likely source of the natural gas leak that caused the explosion were the gas dryers in the basement:

A likely source of the gas leak, one consistent with the observable physical evidence and eyewitness statements, together with the history of natural gas explosions in other reported cases, is that the gas dryers floated during the flood event causing their gas lines to come loose. Witnesses who observed a video recording of the basement during the flooding reported seeing the gas dryers floating. It is well established that there is a danger of this occurring if gas dryers are not bolted down. Project specifications for the dryers in place at the time of the explosion required that appliances be “bolted” down “as necessary.”

It is believed that the dryers in place at the time of the 2012 flood were bolted down, as they were not displaced despite the basement being filled with water to the same extent as occurred in 2014. Thus, the flood did not cause a gas leak. The purpose of bolting the dryers to the flood, making such attachment “necessary” in a flood-prone basement, is that flood waters can float the dryers, loosening or breaking their connection to the gas lines.

There is no evidence that county maintenance officials, or others, were aware the gas dryers had not been bolted down prior to the flood event on April 30, 2014. As discussed below, there is no evidence that anyone in the chain of command for the CBF at the time of the explosion was aware of an unresolved gas leak.

Fleming believed that County officials, from the top down, “took reasonable precautions against all known risks.” He stated the basement had flooded to the same intensity less than two years earlier, with no gas leaks.

County officials had put into place a flood remediation plan, had put into place a flood emergency plan, and all reasonably foreseeable risks of a repeat of the 2012 flood had been planned for and were being addressed. Actions taken before the flood, during the flood, and after the flood, support a finding that the personnel involved acted with all due concern for the life and safety of the inmates under their care, as well as the corrections officers and staff.

The negligence of the contractor for failing to bolt the dryers to the floor may be imputed to the County, but the County has the right to indemnification from the contractor. I have found no evidence to support a finding that County employees acted with reckless disregard for the life and safety of their colleagues or the inmates under their charge. In fact, all evidence I have found supports the exact opposite conclusion.

Read Preliminary on the blast.

Fleming provided an additional memo that offers more details. In the memo, he report that the complaints of the a gas leak prior to the explosion were no proven.

The Fire Marshall’s office, with assistance from ATF, will determine the precise mechanism for the gas leak. A separate investigation has been undertaken by the State Attorney’s Office regarding potential criminal liability. The scope of our investigation was potential civil liability, including federal civil rights violations. We focused on whether county officials in charge of the jail ignored reports of a gas leak during the hours preceding the blast as reported by various media. We found no such evidence.

The gas leak reported on the day of the blast was located, and repaired. The gas leak leading to the blast would have occurred in an area sealed off from the rest of the building by rising waters. Officials on duty at the time of the blast have testified under oath that they were not aware of a gas leak, either through personal observations (sense of smell), or from reports by others. Written maintenance records and nursing notes support that testimony.

Also supporting this sworn testimony is that the officials in charge of the CDF at the time of the explosion were in the same zone of risk (the CDF) as were the inmates under their care. It defies logic to think these officials were have ignored the smell of gas, or reports of the smell of gas, in the very building in which they were working at the time of the explosion.

Read Fleming memo