Grainger Co. jail failed inspections prior to inmates escaping | News
(WBIR-Grainger County) After three inmates escaped from the Grainger County jail last Friday, 10News uncovered security issues that helped the men break out were highlighted in inspections the jail failed this year.
Around 7:30 p.m. Friday, three criminals escaped by allegedly climbing over the jail's recreation wall. Two of the inmates, Dennis Rucker and Shane Farrow, were found at the Royal Inn in Pigeon Forge around 9 p.m. Sunday. The third suspect, David Valentine, was still on the run as of Thursday evening.
Charles Biddle, Chief Deputy for the Grainger County Sheriff's Department, said issues that caused the jail to fail an inspection in April and reinspection in May had not been resolved, and helped the inmates escape.
As highlighted in both inspections, jailers had not been keeping an updated log on the inmate headcount. Biddle said security staff was still having that issue, which is why it took officials two days to realize the trio was even missing.
Biddle also said the inmates were able to roam around freely within the jail and recreation area since the air lock system was not working.
"Well, they could just come and go as they pleased. You couldn't lock the door," said Biddle.
While the jailers had manual keys, the locks had been vandalized by the inmates.
"We've even got one door back there that's warped and that would take some effort and time so that should never have happened. And even one lock should never have been jammed," explained Biddle. "They shouldn't have accessibility to that much time to mess with it in the first place, or even to have the tools to do it with."
Biddle also said standard policies and procedures were consistently broken, also highlighted in the 2013 inspections, including inmates having possession of contraband.
"Cell phones. We had a constant, constant problem with that. Razors, not straight razors, but razors we provide them. Well, they're supposed to be taken back up and counted," said Biddle. "As far as other contraband, there shouldn't be any , at all, like pictures, magazines, and books. Which they can have one book, but when we did the shakedown, some of them had 10 books, or 4 or 5 razors, bleach, cleaning things. "
In both inspection and reinspection documents, the Tennessee Corrections Institute reported "the facility safety and security inspection/check log does not reflect how much contraband is in the inmate housing areas, nor do they reflect how much damage is being done by the inmates in these housing areas. It is evident the conditions of the cells do not match what is on the security check log."
The report also stated "The facility is not logging what officers are coming on duty during the shift change, nor are they documenting who is conducting the formal inmate count that is to be conducted each shift."
The Grainger County Sheriff's Department and District Attorney are investigating how the inmates got the contraband, as well as which staff members broke the rules.
Biddle said despite training all correctional officers as required, daily routines were broken on a regular basis. That's why he said he's keeping a close eye on the security cameras to make sure that while the doors are still unlocked, the jailers are keeping the inmates on a lock-down.
"I have all of the surveillance equipment in my office, on the computer, I can pull up immediately and check inside the courts, to outside, to inmates," said Biddle. "It's live or recorded, and you can see that there's not a soul moving anywhere, or there shouldn't be."
While Biddle was showing 10News current surveillance video, inmates could in fact be seen leaving one room, and walking down the hall.
"That's wasn't supposed to happen, and as soon as we're done I'm going to go find out what is going on," said Biddle.
Biddle said the lack of authority from the jailers, as noted in the inspections, may have also helped the inmates escape. He admitted that if officials had not followed the required Plan of Action after failing.
"Yes, I would agree 100% with that," said Biddle.
But, Biddle said part of the issue has been with the vendors who make the needed supplies. He said while they tried to order new locks, lights and other equipment for recommended repairs, the companies that make the product kept delaying delivery.
"We couldn't seem to get any assistance much. It was like, well, maybe next month, maybe next month," said Biddle.
He said new locks were expected to be in by Friday, and on Thursday, the Mayor and Jail Administrator allegedly met to talk about ordering more weather-proof cameras for the recreation area, as well as razor wire, all of which are a start to help strengthen security.
"Hopefully maybe one of these days some administration can come up with a fence. As you notice, if you drive around the facility, you're free to drive around the facility, anybody can. But you shouldn't be allowed to do that," said Biddle.
He said while there are many ongoing issues, there have been some upgrades since he started working there in 2005.
"The camera system that we had was not very good. Some of them didn't work, some were pointed in the wrong direction, some the focus was off. We had complete areas that needed surveillance but had no cameras," said Biddle. "We fixed that, and have no more blind spots, but we need more cameras now."
Funding for the new cameras, locks, welding, and razor wire will come from the county's general fund, Biddle said.
To help with overcrowding, he said 16 of the inmates, who are violent and repeat offenders, would be transported to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, likely the facility in Morgan County. He could not say when that would happen.
While one suspect was still on the run, Biddle said officers also arrested a 4th suspect who was an accomplice.
"Furrow's brother drove them around and booked the hotel room," said Biddle.
Daniel Farrow, brother of Shane Farrow, was also arrested yesterday and has been charged with Accessory After the Fact and Facilitation of Escape. Biddle said he was being housed at the Grainger County jail while the two captured escapees are being housed at the Sevier County Sheriff's Department.