"I don't see how they can do what they're doing. You can't keep those guys in your car."
The Bradley County Jail was so overcrowded Thursday evening that patrol officers were told they may need to keep inmates in their cars until there's room in the jail.
Tenth Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump said he was notified early Thursday by Chief Deputy Brian Smith that while the jail is certified to house 408 prisoners, 558 men and women were being held at that time.
That evening, Cleveland Police Chief Mark Gibson verified a text had been sent along with a notice from the 911 center that indicated the jail would not be accepting some prisoners due to overcrowding.
The notice sent out to officers said, "they are overcrowded and will not be taking anyone in on warrants tonight."
The text message said, "There are 75 inmates in booking with nowhere to house them. Patrol officers will have to sit in [their] cars until we have room. Which may be until court tomorrow. We've exhausted all measures and will present a list of releases to the judge in the morning."
"We're kind of monitoring it case by case," Gibson said. "I've never had them tell us that they're not going to accept prisoners. It's kind of unusual."
At press time, Gibson said there were not yet any prisoners waiting in patrol cars to be booked and said he had been told the jail would now be accepting those charged with felonies.
"We haven't run into a situation yet where we had to bring a prisoner in and they rejected them at this point, but I can't imagine we'll make it through the night without that happening," he said.
James Bradford, the director of communications for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office said, "Our Correctional Facility is currently overcrowded, and at one point today booking had 75 inmates. However, I'm unaware of the jail not accepting prisoners today."
Crump said the overcrowding was certainly considered an issue and said authorities were working quickly to solve the problem.
"Nobody will be turned away, per se," he said.
He said officers were working to compile a list of low-level offenders who could be released to make room for others who need to be detained.
"You've got people who are just, frankly, going to have to be in jail," he said.
Speaking about the issue of prisoners potentially having to spend the night in a police car, he said he didn't believe that had happened yet.
Commissioner Dan Rawls expressed frustration with the situation, saying it looked like a failure to improvise on the part of the sheriff's office.
"I don't see how they can do what they're doing. You can't keep those guys in your car," he said.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at email@example.com or 423-757-6731. Follow on Twitter @emmettgienapp.
Clarification: The headline was changed to clarify that officers were told they may need to keep inmates in the patrol cars.