A female jail supervisor has been terminated, along with a female deputy jailer, after the escape of two detainees last week.
According to a news release from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, based upon an internal investigative review, detainees Wesley Gullett, 30, and Christopher Sanderson, 34, are believed to have escaped from the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Adult Detention Center (DBDC) between 8:30 p.m. on Monday, July 29, and 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 30.
Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods, Jr. said that had the supervisor and jailer followed protocol that is in place as it relates to conducting cell checks and immediately reporting issues, search efforts would have been successful a lot sooner.
The termination action cites inefficiency and substandard work performance. Both employees, whose names are not being released, can appeal the termination decision within 10 working days to the sheriff.
“Upon their hiring, both employees received training as a part of their job responsibilities per the Arkansas jail standards,” the news release said. “Employees are required to have 56 hours of training, which includes both practical and classroom instructions conducted by our training division.”
Woods said that “the number of training hours facilitated by our internal training division exceeds the minimum requirements set forth by jail standards. We do this, because we want to ensure full competency at the start of each work day no matter the obstacles.”
In total, Jefferson County deputy jailers undergo 72 hours of training, according to the news release. Jailers are required to make multiple checks of pods, thus aiding in the prevention of escapes and to identify obvious signs of distress or trauma.
But the internal investigation shows that did not take place, according to the news release.
“Each staff member is provided a policy and procedures manual. We recognize that this profession much like the enforcement side of our operations is a highly stressful environment. But, we still expect all of our staff to perform their duties and functions thoroughly and efficiently,” Woods said.
Woods said he remembers that when he served as major of operations prior to becoming sheriff, the jail underwent similar problems, such as the introduction of contraband through the exterior walls due to concerns with construction of the facility.
“During that time, officials took several measures to combat the ongoing issues including the placement of metal to overlap the exposed opening along the outer walls,” the news release said.
A fence with barbed wire along with a perimeter intrusion alert system and additional cameras were also added onto the facility.
“For the time we spend identifying and addressing vulnerabilities within the security of our jail, detainees have 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week, and up to 365 days a year to find ways to exploit them. It’s like playing a game of chess or cat and mouse,” Woods said.
The construction of the facility allows for at least one jailer to supervise each pod. However, understaffing plays a critical part in manpower or lack thereof, according to the news release.
“With a starting salary of $23,000 annually with no experience and $27,000 with experience, a career as a deputy jailer isn’t very attractive to most,” Woods said.
“Additionally, jail standards require a rigorous background investigation followed by a physical and psychological examination for those that are successful enough to reach that phase. More times than not, applicants are no longer considered due to inability to successfully complete the criminal record vetting of the background investigation. There’s a lot that goes into the hiring process.”
DBDC, a 316-bed facility, was built in 2007 following the passage of two ordinances in 2003. The first provided the levy of a sale and use tax to construct the jail and the second to support operations. The ordinances, which were passed by the Quorum Court were supported by the voters of Jefferson County in the 2003 election.
Woods said he has talked to some members of the Jefferson County Quorum Court to identify funds to repair structural deficiencies as well as vulnerabilities to minimize the threat of future escape attempts.
He is currently reviewing quotes from contractors to remedy the current problems.