Fulton County Sheriff Lloyd Martz informed the Fulton County Quorum Court April 14 the jail is not in compliance with jail standards because only one jailer is on duty during the midnight shift leaving the jailer the sole employee on duty for approximately 120 hours a week. After quorum court members failed to resolve two heated topics -- the jail inadequacies and enhanced 9-1-1 -- jailer Barbara Passman threatened to walk out if the court didn't act on them.
On March 23 two capital murder suspects escaped from the jail, handcuffed the lone jailer and took another female hostage after breaking out of the jail. Martz told the court the county was lucky nobody died during the incident.
Chief jailer Joann Cunningham said, "We are very lucky that (jailer) Rhonda Long was not killed. I will not work by myself in this jail no more. It is too dangerous, and I do not expect my girls to." The chief jailer reminded the quorum court this was not the first incident; she said a few years back Police Chief Albert Roork was seriously injured by inmates.
Martz said he is in a quandary because the jail can't house any additional inmates, which creates a problem with Memorial weekend coming up; he predicted numerous arrests during the holiday.
The quorum court appropriated $3,950 to subcontractor Danny Ramsey to fix the corrugated tin ceiling in the jail which is the route escapees took during the breakout.
Ramsey said he would replace the ceiling with one-eighth inch steel and weld it in a secure manner. He said the problem was the ceiling had been stick welded and the tin deteriorated which allowed the criminals to push it up and make their escape.
David Keck, Fulton County 9-1-1 coordinator, discussed implementing enhanced 9-1-1 and hiring two full-time and one part-time employees to help alleviate the personnel problem.
Keck's proposal was a nine-year plan which summarized the operation for the E9-1-1. The coordinator said enough money is in the 9-1-1 account to operate the system for five years with the $43,700 grant the county received by the Public Safety Foundation of America. After five years the county would own the equipment and the income would surpass the outgoing funds, Keck added.
He said the county is growing at a rate of 10 percent and residents are adding second phone lines which will generate more revenue.
Martz insisted he needs three full-time and two part-time employees. To hire three full-time and two part-time employees the cost to the county would be around $80,795. To hire two full-time and one part-time jailer would cost $50,798, Keck said. But Cunningham said the jail needs employees before E9-1-1 can be implemented. Keck reminded the court the sheriff's office was already handling basic 9-1-1 calls effective September of last year because of the Homeland Security Act.
Keck said E9-1-1 would assist the jailers and not burden employees; it would provide tools to help with their job. Justice of the Peace Jimmy Marler suggested the county needs to look at Sharp County's enhanced system. Keck said, "Sharp County is going broke. I don't think we want to model after them."
The voters opposed an enhanced 9-1-1 system in the general election, Marler said. Keck disagreed; he said the voters opposed an increase on the phone tariff but did not oppose the enhanced system.
Marler said the problem needs to be resolved during budget time. But last year Martz did appeal to the court and said he was not in compliance with Jail Standards; he feared the facility would be closed down.
At the December quorum court meeting Martz read a letter he wrote to Fulton County Judge Curren Everett. The letter read: "On Dec. 3, 2002, Jail Standards inspected the Fulton County Jail. They advised me that the jail was understaffed and that I needed to hire two full-time jailers, and one part-time jailer for the swing shift and midnight shift, because I am in violation of Jail Standards. I am requesting two full-time jailers and one part-timer jailer in order to be in compliance. Failure to correct this problem could cause Fulton County a problem in the future."No action was taken at that time.