Video: Attorney seeks client's transfer out of Hamilton County’s Silverdale jail after conditions recorded

A still from the Silverdale Detention Center video.
A still from the Silverdale Detention Center video.

A Chattanooga attorney has filed a motion requesting her client be transferred from the Silverdale Detention Center into state prison, citing conditions she documented by video.

"I filed the motion initially because I saw a change in my client from the person I first started representing and thought it was likely related to him having been in 23/1," Brandy Spurgin-Floyd said via text to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Under such a regimen, inmates spend 23 hours per day alone in their cell, and one hour in the yard for exercise. Spurgin-Floyd said her client was on the 23/1 regimen for 60 days on a disciplinary matter.

The hearing to address Spurgin-Floyd's motion for a transfer was scheduled for Dec. 15 before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman. At the hearing, Sgt. Eric Qualls, a correctional officer, was to testify on conditions at the facility, although he bowed out as a result of a family funeral, sheriff's officials said.

Spurgin-Floyd thought of a video of the cell as an alternative or supplement to the sergeant's testimony and asked Brian Bush, the legal counsel for the Sheriff's Office, to arrange a visit for herself and her private investigator.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga judge intervenes for Silverdale inmates claiming poor medical attention)

On Dec. 16, Spurgin-Floyd showed up with her private investigator, Walter Lindsey, and a camera to record the conditions with the idea of presenting it at a new hearing on Jan. 18.

Her client, Harrison Alexander Ellison, 22, has been at the Silverdale Detention Center since 2020 awaiting trial for one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of especially aggravated burglary and one count of burglary of an automobile in connection with the Sept. 29, 2020, shooting death of 18-year-old Jacobreyan Reed at the Citgo Express gas station on Dodds Avenue. Ellison has not entered a plea yet.

The footage released by Spurgin-Floyd to the Times Free Press revealed conditions in Ellison's cell, which Spurgin-Floyd believes have contributed to the deterioration of his mental health.

"I did this inspection today of my client's cell. I was so appalled and disgusted. It smelled like a cat hoarder's house (the whole unit, not just the cell) -- it took my breath," Spurgin said in a statement. "There was standing water pretty much everywhere. There was water leaking through the ceiling into the light in my client's cell. So that light does not work. His cell is dark -- as you can see. It is absolutely gross. And not fit for humans, and I can now see why someone might have mental health problems after prolonged exposure to such conditions."


Read the full Sheriff's Office response to concerns about jail conditions.

Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokesman J. Matt Lea said the office gave the attorney access and allowed the video to be made for the court proceeding.

"The video depicts several issues inside the inmates' cell, including various Styrofoam food containers and trash, and a vandalized shower curtain and light fixture," Lea said. "Unfortunately, what this video does not detail is the cause of the aforementioned damage or accumulation of trash. The light fixture, the shower curtain and other items have been repeatedly vandalized in the cell. HCSO maintenance personnel have made repairs inside the cell and are currently assessing the most recent damages. In addition to the current damages, a new light fixture was installed by maintenance on Thursday, Dec. 22."

He said vandalism is a recurring issue in the jail.

"This is due in large part to the fact the original intent of this aged facility was to house low-level offenders as a workhouse. The HCSO is working to modify and retrofit the facility to house high-level offenders," he said. "Recently approved improvements and projects are designed to limit inmate exposure and access to lighting and electrical equipment."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga families claim deadly medical neglect at Silverdale Detention Center)

He said maintenance crews have not been made aware of a current leak in the cell.

"There was a small leak that was reported in July of 2021 after the inmate(s) on the floor directly above Ellison intentionally sabotaged and flooded their shower, causing the leak to affect his cell," Lea said. "Once again, this was not an issue our personnel ignored, rather an unfortunate result from inmate vandalism. Anytime water drips into a lower tier, it is the result of inmate flooding in an upper level."

Spurgin-Floyd said she wants something done about the conditions.

"The court doesn't realize how bad it is," she said.

Spurgin-Floyd said she doesn't expect special treatment for her client, just that her client has access to the basic standard conditions required under the law.

"It's not supposed to be Disney World, I get that, I understand that," Spurgin-Floyd said. "(People believe that) if they are charged with disciplinary infractions or charged with cases that come about while they are in jail, then they shouldn't be given anything, and that's not the case. He is still entitled to humane conditions. I'm not saying they have to be the best conditions, so I think a lot of people want to say that."

(READ MORE: Amid continuing inmate assaults, Hamilton County sheriff seeks funding for more Silverdale officers)

On Thursday, Spurgin-Floyd informed the Times Free Press via text that another one of her clients was also in a dark cell. She said she has not yet decided whether to file a similar motion on his behalf.

"I don't know yet," Spurgin-Floyd said. "I would like to believe I won't have to because conditions will improve."

Contact La Shawn Pagán at or 423-757-6476.

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