Investigation into jail riot continuing; sheriff’s limits on new admissions remains in effect
The investigation into the July 28 riot at the Cascade County Detention Center is ongoing, Sheriff Bob Edwards said Friday.
The riot involved 43 inmates in N Pod, a section of the jail with 14 cells designed to hold 28 people.
The morning of the riot, N Pod had 55 people in it, other officials at the sheriff’s office told The Electric. Jail staff had moved six people out that morning and one inmate had assaulted a corrections officer that morning during a separate incident.
Dan O’Fallon, jail commander, said during a Friday afternoon press conference that six people in N Pod followed instructions during the riot and immediately locked down, lowering the number of people being investigated.
Edwards said there were two cameras in the area of the riot and investigators are watching the 20 minutes or so of available footage since the cameras were destroyed during the riot.
That footage is being used to help determine who played what role during the riot, Edwards said.
It’s “very tedious work,” Edwards said, but he expects charges will be filed. “There’s a lot to look at.”
The July 28 riot started around 11 a.m. and lasted about four hours. N Pod was treated as a crime scene, but jail staff started moving people back in that evening.
The pod remains on lockdown, O’Fallon said, meaning only four people are allowed out at a time for an hour at a time.
Some of the inmates officials think were involved in the riot have been moved into max security units and many of those who had been in the pod were separated “so they can’t plan another riot,” Edwards said.
During the riot, inmates broke televisions, cameras, panels, destroyed the fire suppression system, broke doors by bending the entire frame, among other damages that Edwards now estimates around $22,300. That includes an $8,000 estimate for the fire suppression system.
County Attorney Josh Racki said they can ask for restitution during the legal process for anyone charged in the riots, but it’s unlikely the county will be able to recoup the cost of damages that way.
O’Fallon said the cost will come out of the jail budget, but they’re also talking to their insurance carrier to see if they can get damages covered.
The county budget has not yet been presented in a public hearing or approved by the County Commission.
The Monday before the riot, July 23, Edwards sent a memo to local judges and law enforcement agencies announcing that he would not accept non-violent misdemeanor offenses for the time being due to the overcrowding.
On July 23, the jail population was 531. The morning of the riot, it was 484. On Friday afternoon it was down to 445. The jail was designed to hold 360.
“We’re as low as we can go right now…is it fixed? No,” O’Fallon said.
Edwards has said that the jail has been overcrowded for his entire tenure as sheriff but the late July spike was the highest he’d ever seen.
The spike was not to do a sudden, dramatic increase in local crime, but was due to federal transport planes not flying four weeks in a row.
When there’s a transport flight scheduled, other jails and agencies move their prisoners or pre-trial holds to the Cascade County jail. Typically, they come in the day before a transport flight, but when the plane doesn’t fly, they end up stuck at the Cascade County jail.
Because of the canceled flights, the jail had 88 federal holds at the time of the population spike, O’Fallon said.
There were still 50 federal holds at the jail as of Friday afternoon.
“Everybody’s feeling the same crunch,” O’Fallon said of jails and prisons being at capacity across Montana and nationwide.
There are about 6,000 active warrants in the county right now and O’Fallon said jail officials “totally understand the need to put some people in jail.”
He said that over the July 4 holiday weekend, the jail population was pushing 490 and he said that he’d drafted a memo about limiting admissions, but the number dropped back down and he didn’t send the memo.
Edwards said his reason for restricting admissions to the jail is in the interest of safety of his staff and inmates. Local officials have expressed frustration with the lack of communication and discussion of other potential options.
If a person presents a public safety or flight risk, is violent or otherwise causing problems, Edwards said “we’ll make room for them.”
O’Fallon said that last week, officers were dealing with an unruly person who hadn’t yet committed a crime. The situation was escalating and officers found that the person had a $285 warrant out of Power County, so he was taken to jail before he could cause someone else to be a victim, O’Fallon said.
Edwards said the overcrowding caused high tensions and a riot “can happen any time.”
He said Friday that “overcrowding, in my opinion, led to this.”
Edwards said some members of the public have asked why inmate have access to televisions, books, cards, etc. He said that if they didn’t have access, they’d be sitting around thinking of ways to riot or cause other trouble.
Edwards said during the Friday press conference that he’s working with other officials on some pre-trial options, though he told The Electric two weeks ago that he doesn’t believe pre-trial monitoring is the responsibility of the sheriff’s office.
On Friday, Municipal Judge Steve Bolstad had 17 people in jail. The District Court had three people in jail and the justices of the peace had three in for pre-trial holds, O’Fallon said.
County Attorney Josh Racki said it can take a year from the time a person is charged to sentencing in the local legal system.
Many can’t afford bonds and O’Fallon said they work weekly with Racki to see who can be out of jail on monitoring or some other pre-trial program.
O’Fallon said that anyone officials believe can be out, “they’re out.” There aren’t a lot of other options for those in the jail now, he said, “other than jeopardizing public safety.”
O’Fallon and Edwards said their working on expanding the 24/7 alcohol monitoring program, but that won’t reduce the number of pre-trial felons.
The county moved 40 federal inmates out of the jail so it’s not cost to the county, but they also lose that revenue, O’Fallon said.
The county is reimbursed for housing state and federal inmates, and those from other local jurisdictions.
O’Fallon said it cost $89.75 daily to house someone at the Cascade County jail, excluding medications, special diets and other extraneous costs.
The state pays $70.36 for their inmates per day and the Department of Corrections reimburses at $69 daily, O’Fallon said.
Federal agencies reimburse at $95 per day.
O’Fallon said the Cascade County jail is the go-to for federal agencies and local officials convinced the federal government to pay a higher rate.
Both Edwards and O’Fallon have said repeatedly in recent weeks that the jail receives $1.2 million from the county. According to county budget documents, the public safety department, which includes the jail and Cascade County Sheriff’s Office received about $5 million from property taxes during fiscal year 2018, which ended June 30. The jail’s total operating budget was about $9 million for the fiscal year.
Mary Embleton, county budget officer, said there is no cap on what the sheriff’s office can request but public safety competes with other general fund needs like roads, the health department, the library, water and solid waste, among others. Embleton said the sheriff’s office is allocated the $5 million in property taxes and officials there divvy that up as they see fit.
Edwards and O’Fallon have said that they need the state contract and reimbursements from other agencies to generate the revenue needed to operate the jail.
O’Fallon said on Friday that to make their revenue projections this year, they need 30-35 federal inmates daily and 35-37 DOC inmates to make budget.
The county is currently at odds with the state regarding contract language on paying for state inmates who are serving state sentences, but are released and reoffend.
Racki said he’s invited state officials to meet with the County Commission next week, but hadn’t heard back as of Monday afternoon.
The old contract said if a DOC inmate was released, reoffends locally and is back in jail on a county bond, the county has to pay for their stay, Racki said.
The new contract doesn’t include the same language, Racki said, and the county believes the state should pay the cost to house those inmates.
It applies to those with convictions who are serving a DOC sentence and are out on conditional release, probation or parole and either violate the terms of release or commit a new crime either outside or within the jail, Racki said.
Commissioner Jim Larson said Monday that the county believes the state owes $500,000 for housing those inmates.
Racki said a recent example of a state convict who committed a new crime is Stanley LeBeau who was out on GPS monitoring and charged for deliberate homicide in connection with a May 2017 death at the Airway Motel.
On Friday, there were 183 pre-trial people being held in the jail. O’Fallon told The Electric in late July that the facility was only designed to hold 90 pre-trial.
O’Fallon said that only 20 people in the jail were on misdemeanor charges, between convicted and pre-trial. Driving under the influence, partner family member assault, assault, theft and others can be misdemeanors under Montana law.
O’Fallon said there are still regulations about overflow facilities and said the county could never go back to housing inmates in the old jail downtown.