UPDATE | Inmates overdosed, fought Louisville jail officers in drug frenzy
Amount of drugs, overdoses in Metro Corrections is "ridiculous" says one Louisville Metro Council member.
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) – At about 11 p.m. on Feb. 8, a Metro Corrections officer heard an inmate yelling, "Help, people are dying here,” while others were banging on the dorm cell windows.
Responding officers found some inmates on the floor or in a bunk, vomiting; another was unconscious and others were “acting very strangely,” jail records say.
A half-dozen inmates were “obviously under the influence of narcotics” inside a jail dorm, with two being given a medication used to reverse the effects of an overdose and three taken to the hospital, according to an internal summary of the events obtained by WDRB News.
Inmates became combative with jail staff, punching, kicking and biting officers before being overwhelmed by guards.
Some officers received minor injuries and three went to the hospital “due to exposure” after inmates spit on or near their mouths, the report says.
One of the inmates told jail officials the men had been “smoking spice,” a synthetic drug linked to overdoses, seizures, aggression and suicidal behavior.
The three inmates who were sent to the hospital had vomited on themselves and the jail dorm, according to the summary. The other three inmates were placed under observation in single cells.
No drugs were found in the jail dorm.
Steve Durham, a spokesman for Metro Corrections, said in an email that “the incident was quickly detected, each inmate in this incident was seen by medical staff who directed appropriate treatment.”
Metro Councilman David James, D-6th District, said the jail has a $250,000 body scanner but inmates are still getting drugs and dangerous contraband into Metro Corrections.
“The fact that we have people overdosing in the jail is ridiculous,” James said.
In early 2013, Metro Corrections installed the full body scanner to keep drugs and other contraband from getting into the jail.
All newly arrested inmates must go through the scanner, which has several times caught inmates who had hidden drugs in body cavities, socks and pockets.
After an arrest, a police officer searches the person and then a corrections officer does a physical pat-down at the jail. Inmates are then sent though the body scanner.
Metro Corrections Director Mark Bolton was asked about drugs getting into the jail by members of the Metro Council's Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
He said the body scanner is effective, but doesn't catch everything, and inmates are "sophisticated" in their ability to get drugs and alcohol while incarcerated.
In his email, Durham said there are reasons why all of the checks and the body scanner can’t detect “every piece of contraband, but in the interest of safety and security it would not be smart to disclose those reasons.”
The 25-page investigative report obtained by WDRB paints a picture of a chaotic night, with dozens of officers eventually responding to ill and combative inmates.
One officer said, “There was not enough nurses to assess all of the” inmates initially.
Three inmates were not responsive, and two were given Narcan, a life-saving opioid reversal drug. The third inmate was sent to University Hospital “due to his current condition and level of intoxication.”
One inmate became combative and “yelled their (sic) dying as he turned around and lunged at (officers),” according to an interview with another officer. A guard used pepper spray on the inmate.
Another inmate bit an officer, who then repeatedly struck the inmate in the face, according to the report.
Metro Corrections has already been under fire in recent months for alleged repeated failures to properly release inmates.
Attorneys for two former inmates have filed a federal lawsuit against Metro government and Bolton, claiming hundreds of inmates have been unlawfully imprisoned by being detained after judges ordered them released.
Bolton told members of the Metro Council that he could not discuss the pending lawsuit.
In addition, Bolton and his top staffers are preparing for a March contempt hearing ordered by a Jefferson District Court judge who alleges the jail is not following orders on releasing inmates.
On Jan. 27, Judge Stephanie Burke harshly criticized jail officials, telling them there was a "leadership problem" and an attitude from some top officials that they do not need to follow orders.
"I think this is a systemic problem," Burke told Bolton, Durham and Chief of Staff Dwayne Clark, among others. "There is a wide consensus, not just in this court but in others, among the (Bar Association), the court staff, the clerks, the sheriffs, that this is a problem and it's a daily problem. This is something that needs to be a collaborative effort to resolve."
And on Monday, the jail announced it will begin an “internal audit” after mistakenly leaving an inmate in jail several months after serving out a one-year sentence and also failing to properly alert U.S. Immigration, Custom and Enforcement Officers about the man.
Asked by James about leaving the man in jail five months after he had finished his sentence, Bolton acknowledged "mistakes happen."
"Obviously we kept him way too long," Bolton said, adding that he has launched an "aggressive investigation" to find out what happened. "But is it systemic? Absolutely not."
Bolton told the council that Metro Corrections is overcrowded by hundreds of inmates, which compounds problems that are not uncommon in jails. And he defended the work he and his staff are doing.
"We're doing things in Metro Corrections that other correctional facilities haven't even though of," he said.
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