After six months of trying to make the Bradley County Jail ready to pass its next state inspection, the man in charge of the project gave it up as futile and quit in despair last week.
Former sheriff Dan Gilley said in his resignation letter that "we cannot expect to pass the preliminary jail inspection" he believes will take place when the Tennessee Corrections Institute visits next month before the new county workhouse can open.
Gilley took on the job of facility maintenance director last year after the jail flunked its TCI inspection and had to file a plan of action with the agency to get a conditional certification.
Among other things, Gilley wrote, there are three broken showers; five broken or leaking toilets; 20 sinks that don't work, including some without hot or cold water; 26 lights out, 15 windows that need replacing and at least five cameras that aren't operating.
Gilley wrote that "I do not see how we can possibly address all of the needs that will impact certification in time for the follow-up inspection thirty days later. After receiving a conditional certification by TCI in December that was based on completing much work in the housing area that remains undone, the odds are we will not be certified for 2017-18."
Giving notice that his last day would be June 9, Gilley said the three people on the maintenance staff "have performed miracles" with the budget they had, but added, "It is a plain and simple fact that this facility was not designed to operate safely and securely with only a little over one-half of the staff it needs."
The Times Free Press was given a copy of the resignation letter by Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls, who raised more concerns about jail staffing and the corrections budget when the commission's law enforcement committee met Tuesday.
Lt. James E. Bradford Jr., communications director for the sheriff's office, noted that Gilley will continue working on policies and procedures for the new workhouse. Gilley could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
The jail is built for 408 inmates and held 520 on Tuesday, Sheriff Eric Watson said. Recommended staffing is 92 corrections officers but there are 66 now, he said, up from 57 in 2010. Commissioners Terry Cawood and Howard Thompson noted that understaffing has been chronic through several administrations.
Rawls questioned Watson about 18 people whose salaries are paid from the corrections budget but whom Rawls said don't appear to work in that department. That includes Watson's former finance director, who was demoted and moved last year when commissioners criticized the department's finances.
"What pod does Richard McAllister oversee?" Rawls asked.
Watson first questioned the list of names, saying, "Whoever gave that list to you doesn't know what he's talking about." He said two of the names were for people who had left the department, and noted that some names were left off.
Rawls said he got it from Capt. Gabe Thomas, the corrections chief, who was not present. Bradford disputed that, saying Thomas had told him the list didn't come from him and they don't know how it was generated or by whom.
Rawls also asked Watson and his officers at the meeting whether they'd received an evaluation of the jail from Thomas that tallies closely with Gilley's. They all said they had not.
Rawls said the staffing shortage needs to be remedied "so we don't get in trouble with the state and have something stupid happen like the jail gets closed."
Watson was dismissive, saying, "The TCI is not going to come in here and threaten to shut us down."
He said jailers are only part of the corrections budget, which also includes adminstrators, trainers, fingerprinters and a variety of other tasks involved with processing inmates or operating the facility.
He noted there were 70 prisoners at General Sessions Court on Monday and 40 on Tuesday, when he had three officers present to keep them in line.
"There is no way those three officers would be able to handle a riot in Sessions Court," Watson said.
He also asked why Rawls hadn't simply called him to ask about the list of names, rather than bring it to the law enforcement committee.
Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber noted that previous sheriffs also had used the corrections budget to pay people who don't supervise inmates.
He pointed out that the staffing issue ties in with the maintenance problems and overcrowding. The county needs options for people awaiting trial and those convicted of nonviolent offenses to lower the jail's population and help inmates get jobs and stabilize their lives, the group agreed.
Yarber got the sheriff and the commissioner to agree to a future meeting to go over the list name by name.
The news overshadowed what Watson called "record-setting numbers" for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. Figures sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed the department consistently beat state averages for crime-solving.
For instance, the sheriff's office in 2016 solved 91.6 percent of its simple assault complaints, compared to 51 percent statewide.
It solved 36 percent of thefts, compared to 22.9 percent statewide, and 37 percent of burglaries, vs. 13.6 percent across the state.
Overall, the department solved 65.15 percent of crimes in 2o16, compared to 46.5 percent 10 years ago, and 40 percent statewide.
"I'm very, very proud of those clearance rates," Watson said.
Rawls added congratulations to Capt. Steve Lawson, head of the department's Criminal Investigation Division.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at [email protected] or 423-757-6416.