National media probing deeper into jail explosion

Jail Bars
AP reporters Melissa Nelson-Gabriel and Tamara Lush wrote today about the long history of problems at the Escambia County Jail: Florida jail that exploded had past problems; 2 killed, nearly 200 injured.

The jail has been a problem for decades. The AP mentions the Department of Justice report but there was another report that the county staff didn’t want released.

The commissioners commissioned a study of jail operations in February 2008, when Ron McNesby was sheriff and Bob McLaughlin was the county administrator. The intent of the study was to determine if the county jail should be moved out of the control of the Sheriff’s Office, where it had been since April 1994.

The JCI report was never released because county staff disputed the findings, particularly the sections that were critical of Gordon Pike, Director of Corrections. The consultants found several serious structural deficiencies in the Main Jail and the Central Book and Detention facility.The facilities were in much need of renovation and the staffing was inadequate.

The final report by Justice Concepts Inc. was sent to the county on March 2011. In 2013 Sheriff Morgan had to obtain a copy of it through a public record request. The county had refused to pay for the report unless JCI changed its conclusions.

On March 14, 2013, Sheriff Morgan wrote Interim County Administrator George Touart about the report, which he believed put both the Board of County Commissioners and him on notice “that there are significant deficiencies in Jail staffing and in the Jail physical plant.”

“We have a duty to take appropriate action,” wrote Morgan, “Failure to do could be construed as deliberate indifference to the consequences and could place the County and Sheriff in serious legal jeopardy.”

On April 3, 2013, Sheriff Morgan sent Touart another letter asking that the county pay the consultants, something he believed the county administrator had committed to doing at the March Public Safety meeting. He was upset that the interim county administrator had not authorized that the check be cut.

“I will be direct. There are no ‘material errors’ in this report,” Morgan told Touart. “The researcher’s only error was in identifying clearly and accurately many longstanding issues and problems within the Escambia County Detention System.”

He reiterated his position that the county must take action on the jail and the staffing to “mitigate any future legal liability for issues arising within the facilities.”

Touart responded on April 12, 2013 to Sheriff Morgan saying that his letter reflected “several misconceptions about the nature and purpose of the study and contains misrepresentation as to what I said at the Public Safety Council meeting.”

He said the county would not process and make final payment until JCI and NCSC correct what his staff believed to be “significant and material deficiencies” regarding County Pretrial Services, headed by Pike, in their report.