In Nash county, commissioners, sheriff at odds after safety concerns force changes at jail
Posted December 23, 2019 3:22 p.m. EST
Updated December 24, 2019 7:59 a.m. EST
Nashville, N.C. — The Nash County Board of Commissioners and sheriff are pointing fingers at each other this week after state health inspectors ordered more than 100 inmates moved out of the county detention facility.
The state Division of Health Service Regulation sent a letter last week to Sheriff Keith Stone ordering that jail population be reduced to no more than 56 inmates until fire code violations, electrical hazards, safety hazards and short-staffing issues are addressed.
By Monday, 130 inmates were bused to Bertie County and other detention centers across eastern North Carolina. But the bigger issue – how to pay for upgrades to make Nash County jail safe – was far from decided.
The first cost will be the approximately $11,000 per day the county will pay to those other facilities to house the relocated inmates.
Nash County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robbie Davis said the county had never had a bad report on its jail before. In fact, it passed inspections in May and again in early December.
"Given the age and use of these buildings, they are in good shape," Davis said.
Speaking for the commission, Davis said the county has done its part to maintain the jail, and problems there are largely the fault of the sheriff.
"In our opinion, we have a real culture problem in the detention center with our employees at this time. It may be the worst that I’ve experienced in my 50 years in business," Davis said.
But Stone said he has been asking for years for greater support from the county without success. On Monday, he pointed to rusted bars, leaking pumps, blocked drains and peeling paint.
"You can see prima facie evidence that this place is dilapidated," he said.
Twice this year, inmates have escaped from the jail by punching holes in the fence surrounding the exercise yard, and in the second case, a lock on a door to the yard either malfunctioned or was "sabotaged," Stone said at the time.
Inmates have also started several fires in the jail this year using wires from electrical outlets or light fixtures, authorities said.
The freezer has been down for more than a month, Stone said. His staff and the inmate workers have to use a rental freezer truck parked outside the security fence.
"This is a security breach," Stone said.
The physical problems make it hard, Stone said, to attract and retain employees.
Chief Deputy Brandon Medina said as many as 19 detention officers would need to be hired to meet the staffing recommendations in the report. Seven applicants are now going through the hiring process, he said.
"I have had numerous meetings with the county manager and chairman of the county commissioners to get these concerns resolved and will continue to work with them to bring closure to the issues," Stone said.
At Monday's meeting, Davis chided Stone for talking to the media about problems at the jail. He requested that Stone stop sending out news releases about it.
"This is a Nash County problem, not a state problem," Davis said. "Those problems need to be looked after at home. They don’t need to be all over the state of North Carolina."
Stone responded by inviting WRAL and other outlets to tour the crumbling facility.
"If the facility was up to standard, these people would have never left today," Stone said. "I think that the people want transparency. I think people want the truth. And I’m sorry I’m delivering a bad message. But as the sheriff of Nash County, I’m responsible for the safekeeping of inmates."