An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office major was suspended from duty recently after a fiasco at the city’s new jail in which deputies scrambled for hours to account for hundreds of inmates who had not been logged into the lockup’s tracking system.
The suspension stemmed from an alarming mix-up that happened in mid-September as Sheriff Marlin Gusman opened the new $150 million jail in Mid-City. Deputies lost count of the inmates after transferring large groups of them into the 1,438-bed facility, according to documents released by the sheriff in response to a public records request.
Maintaining an accurate head count is fundamental to the operation of any correctional setting, and jails typically will be placed on lockdown when the tally is off by a single inmate. In this case, Sheriff’s Office records show, officials had “no baseline number of inmates” after the move from Orleans Parish Prison and, for a time, could not account for the whereabouts of at least 100 inmates.
At one point, deputies were using paper napkins to conduct head counts instead of proper roll sheets.
“It took us hours just to determine who was where and to see if, in fact, we actually had anyone missing,” Maj. Jerrod H. Spinney said in a statement to internal investigators.
Spinney, a Sheriff’s Office veteran of nearly 24 years, was faulted in part for taking over a shift as watch commander with an inaccurate inmate count and not insisting that deputies from the prior shift remain on duty until everyone could be accounted for, the records show. He was suspended for acting “in a manner unbecoming of a deputy” and resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in early October.
Spinney, who did not return a call Friday seeking comment, cited career and family considerations as his reason for leaving. In an exit interview, he listed “treatment of employees” as the biggest challenge the Sheriff’s Office needs to overcome. He also said he had received no explanation from Gusman’s administration regarding his “demotion and subsequent suspension.”
It’s not clear from the records how long Spinney was suspended. Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said Spinney was not demoted. He added that deputies ultimately accounted for all the inmates.
An internal investigation determined Spinney had failed to conduct a “mid-shift count” of inmates and had not distributed roll sheets so deputies “could conduct a proper head count of the inmates.”
Spinney told investigators the disarray began long before he reported to work on Sept. 15.
“Prior to taking over my shift, I was informed by Capt. Chaz Ruiz that there were 600 or 700 inmates still not entered into the new jail system yet,” he said. “I notified all my supervisors that we had inmates missing and I could not have possibly gave them a count with inmates missing; there was no baseline number of inmates to give them a proper count.”
He admitted he should not have taken over the shift with an incorrect inmate count but said his supervisor had “informed me that the count was off and did not instruct me to keep the shift over.”
“After multiple roll calls, we were able to bring the count from 100 inmates missing down to 30-40 inmates missing,” he added. The final 11 inmates remained unaccounted for until the following morning.
The inmate tracking difficulties were among a number of complications surrounding the opening of the new jail.
The Sheriff’s Office also has struggled to sort out how to transport inmates to and from the Criminal District Court building, a process complicated by the closing of Old Parish Prison, a lockup that allowed easy access to the adjacent courthouse. A federal judge recently ordered Gusman to reopen a holding facility in the shuttered jail known as “the docks.”
Shortly after the new jail opened, Matthew Dennis, a local bail bondsman, recalled being unable to secure the release of any inmates for at least a day because so many of them could not be located.
“They started with a couple of busloads that were missing, and then it turned into a couple of handfuls,” Dennis said. “I think they’re just that incapable of being organized at the Sheriff’s Office.”
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