“Jailers are the unsung heroes of law enforcement. They’re back there every day doing their jobs, and you don’t hear about it till they get hurt or something goes wrong.” – Sheriff Bobby Grubbs
There were few sounds in the broad, sterile corridors of the Brown County Jail early Friday afternoon.
A group of inmates in a holding cell gathered close to the glass at the front of the cell and stared at two media representatives, grinning and waving, their voices inaudible through the glass.
It’s not that quiet in the evening, Capt. Becky Caffey and Lt. Les Karnes, the jail’s administrator and assistant administrator, explained. Around supper time, Karnes said, the inmates are “pretty wound up … it’s like a zoo.”
From somewhere in the jail, the sound of something being slammed echoed through the corridor. “That banging you heard was one of our inmates,” Caffey said.
Inmate Joe Dale Smith had just been moved to a different cell, he was mad, and he had generated the slamming sound, Caffey and Karnes said.
Smith is the inmate who, sheriff’s officials allege, assaulted and injured two jailers in two days. Sheriff’s officials allege that Smith shoved jailer Chester Land to the floor Wednesday night, fracturing Land’s shoulder, and head-butted jailer Zachariah Lundy late Thursday noon, sending Lundy to the emergency room to receive stitches for the injuries to his face and head.
If you work in corrections, Karnes said, you’re going to become involved in an altercation with an inmate.
“You have to keep your guard up constantly … it’s a matter of time,” Karnes said. “You’re dealing with all kinds of people , (from) people just sitting out traffic fines to murderers.
“I’ve seen a lot of people in the last 10 years come and go, and it’s definitely not an environment for the weak at heart. You have to be tough-skinned. You have to be willing to do things that are not comfortable, such as administering use of force and dealing with these type of people who are suicidal, or combative, or violent.”
Friday morning at the Law Enforcement Center, Sheriff Bobby Grubbs seemed to take it personal.
“Within 24 hours, I’ve had two jailers seriously injured by an inmate,” Grubbs said.
When asked if the assaults make him angry, Grubbs replied, “Yeah, it does. Any time you hurt one of our officers – correctional or law enforcement – it makes me angry. It makes me angry and apprehensive, both.”
Thirty jailers are on the payroll, and Grubbs hopes to win pay raises for the jailers as Brown County Commissioners complete the budget for the 2012-’13 fiscal year. Starting pay for jailers is $2,000 a month, and Grubbs hopes that pay will be increased to $2,250 a month.
Low pay has been a factor in high jailer turnover, Grubbs has said. While increasing the pay is not a “complete fix,” Grubbs said, he believes better pay will help retain jailers and raise the jailers’ experience levels. The more experience that’s on the jail floor, Grubbs said, “the better and safer the jail is.”
Throughout the day Friday, sheriff’s officials made plans to pursue charges against Smith for the assaults. Smith had previous issues in the jail, including being found with a shank he is alleged to have made from a spoon, and threatening to “get” a jailer.
Smith has been in the Brown Count Jail since June 3. Smith, when he was arrested on charges of was fraudulent use of identifying information, forgery, driving with a suspended license, theft and bail jumping. Smith has also been served with a motion to revoke probation.
Smith was arrested after deputy Brandon Arnold recognized Smith as a driver who did not have a valid license and made a traffic stop, according to earlier reports.
Deputies searched the vehicle and found three stolen checkbooks under the driver’s seat, as well as two checks that came from those checkbooks in Smith’s wallet, deputies alleged in reports.
Later that day, Arnold was among deputies who went to an Early motel room. They went partly as the result of Arnold’s contact with Smith and partly because deputies were investigating suspected drug use in the room, deputies said earlier. Three people were arrested at the motel on drug charges.
Because of Smith’s allegedly violent behavior in the jail, sheriff’s officials said Friday, jailers would make special provisions for any time they needed to move Smith from his cell – for recreation, for court, for attorney visits.
Three jailers would accompany him, and he would be handcuffed and shackled before being taken from the cell.
“We’ve had problems after problems with this inmate,” Grubbs said. “He looks for an opening and reacts quickly.”