New Orleans inmate blamed for flooding new jail now accused of accessing computer that controls cell doors _lowres

Eddie P. Watson

A New Orleans inmate who a month ago was blamed for flooding the second floor of the city’s new $150 million jail faces new charges after he accessed a computer that controls the opening of cell doors, authorities say.

The inmate, Eddie Watson, was rebooked Thursday on one count of “tampering with monitoring systems,” the same felony count he faces in an earlier incident in which authorities say he broke a sprinkler head.

Both episodes have raised questions about staffing levels at the new jail. The 1,438-bed lockup features a modern design known as “direct supervision,” in which inmates are supposed to be monitored by deputies at all times.

The most recent case happened Wednesday evening when Watson “was observed leaning” on a desk in the front of his tier, an area that is supposed to be off-limits to inmates, according to an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office report. The desk “contains computers that are to be used only by the correctional staff,” the report says.

A deputy conducting a security check ordered Watson to move away from the desk, the report says, but the inmate ignored her commands.

“As the deputy was finishing her security check,” the report says, “inmate Watson was observed stepping around the desk to the computer and touching the touch-screen.”

The computer Watson accessed, the report says, “is a touch-screen computer that is used to open doors, communicate with inmates, receive duress (notifications) from inmates, as well as monitor alarms from within cells.” The system also keeps track of whether doors are secured and notifies guards of fire and water-flow alarms.

Watson admitted leaning on the desk but denied touching the computer, the report says, a claim that, as in the case of the vandalized sprinkler, was contradicted by surveillance footage. The new jail has more than 900 surveillance cameras.

In the flooding incident, which happened Sept. 29, jail officials had to shut down the fire suppression system for the entire jail after Watson pried off the cap of a sprinkler inside a cell, sending water “all the way through the tier, beyond the interlock, and down hallways on the second floor,” according to a Sheriff’s Office report.

Fire code regulations require that sprinklers be placed in each cell; the jail’s sprinklers are considered “corrections grade” and are designed to protect against vandalism.

Watson, who initially was jailed in February on a charge of aggravated battery, faces up to two years in prison on each count of tampering — sentences that under state law would have to be set consecutively to any other prison term he receives.

The new jail has experienced its share of hiccups since its long-awaited opening in mid-September. Last week, The New Orleans Advocate reported that several hundred inmates had been unaccounted for shortly after the move from Orleans Parish Prison because they had not been entered into the jail’s inmate tracking system. Deputies needed several hours to verify the whereabouts of all of the inmates.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.