Jail

The Majority of an Oklahoma Sheriff's Office Just Quit Over Unsafe Jail Conditions

It's encouraging to see police stand up for inmates' rights.

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Screenshot/KOTV

An Oklahoma sheriff and the majority of her employees have quit their jobs over what they say are unsafe conditions at the county jail.

The Nowata County jail was closed and its inmates moved to a different jail after a carbon monoxide leak was discovered late last month. That issue still has not been fixed, now-former Sheriff Terry Barnett said at a press conference yesterday, according to Tulsa World. But Nowata County Associate District Judge Carl Gibson wants the inmates to be brought back to jail, former Undersheriff Mark Kirschner told The Frontier.

Barnett claimed Gibson told her last week he could raise her salary and protect her from all personal liability. "I looked straight at the judge and asked him, 'Are you compromising my integrity?' The judge never responded," she told reporters. "I continued to visit with the judge a little bit and informed him under no circumstances will I shove anything under the carpet concerning Nowata County. I also stated directly to him I feel that Nowata County is an extremely corrupt county."

In letter explaining her decision, Barnett said Gibson threatened to hold her in contempt of court if she did not reopen the jail. The judge believes it's too expensive to detain inmates in a different county, Kirschner said at the press conference. But Kirschner think it's cheaper than the alternative, which would be operating the jail.

"The condition of the jail is such that it does not comply with constitutional standards," Barnett wrote in her letter:

In addition to the carbon monoxide issue, Barnett cited exposed electrical wiring, mold, bad plumbing, and an instance where a snake fell on an inmate's head.

"There are too many issues with the jail and it's not suitable for inmates or employees," Barnett said, according to KJRH. Gibson didn't accept her resignation, though Barnett said that doesn't matter. "I do not work for the judge. The judge is an elected official. I am also an elected official," she said. "I do not believe we live in a country where we can be ordered to go to work when I have already tendered my resignation."

In addition to Barnett and Kirschner, five deputies, the head dispatcher, the canine officer, and several jailers quit, reported KOTV. Just five people are left: three dispatchers and two detention officers, dispatcher Dede Kerns told Tulsa World. Another court hearing was scheduled for Tuesday morning to determine next steps.

Whatever ends up happening, it's encouraging to see law enforcement officials stand up for inmates' rights. It would no doubt be far easier to simply reopen the jail. But it's not necessarily the right thing to do. "I will not sweep these things under the carpet," said Barnett.

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  1. As a wise man once said, sometimes the unholy alliance of elected official and law enforcement officer pans out for the better.

  2. won’t somebody please think about the snakes?

  3. an instance where a snake fell on an inmate’s head.

    My God.

  4. It’s encouraging to see police stand up for inmates’ rights.

    Is that what you got from this? No, the gods themselves were being exposed to these dangers. If the inmates alone were in danger, nothing would have happened.

  5. wait, that was confusing…

    A district judge is ordering the jail reopened because of the expense? And he will give out raises and indemnities?

    How exactly does this county work? Is “district judge” something different than what I think it is? He talks about ‘holding in contempt’, which sounds very courtroom judgey… What the heck is going on over there?

    1. Did you miss the word “corruption”?

    2. Harry Truman was a “judge” in Missouri for some time, and it had nothing to do with the legal system. More of an admin type, HR, payroll, etc. Corrupt as hell.

  6. Hold on… you missed the “telling fact:

    Inmates have been housed in the Washington County jail since the evacuation, which has cost the sheriff’s office $34 per inmate each day.

    Meanwhile, the jail costs $17,000 per month to run, Kirschner said

    There were 14 Nowata County inmates in the Washington County jail on Monday.

    The judge cited the cost, right? But they are spending about $3k less per month if they just mothball the jail. ( I get that at the moment they are probably carrying the $17k expense, regardless. But the real solution should be to get rid of the jail, if cost were the primary motivator).

    Something funky is going on here.

    1. Nowata the heck is going on over there?

  7. I was going to say “why don’t they just defy the judge and risk jail,” but then I thought, “which jail will they be locked up in?” So resignation seems a safer option given the circumstances.

  8. get paid over $120 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing, AND GOOD LUCK.HERE>>>>>>…… http://www.Home.jobs89.com

  9. get paid over $120 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing, AND GOOD LUCK.HERE>>>>>>…… http://www.Home.jobs89.com

  10. Elected sheriff resigning to elected district judge?

    What?

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