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‘That’s dangerous’: Former Mecklenburg Co. detention officers say jail is unsafe for staff

WBTV Investigates: There has been a rash of staff assaults at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center resulting in corrections officers being attacked and hospitalized
Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 4:29 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Former Mecklenburg County detention officers tell WBTV Investigates that the jail is becoming so dangerous that a staff member could die.

There has been a rash of staff assaults at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center resulting in corrections officers being attacked and hospitalized.

Two former employees told WBTV Chief Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner that the situation is worse than ever — with massive, persisting staff shortages—and serious safety concerns.

One of the former employees said that if things don’t change soon, someone could end up dead.

Related: Mecklenburg County detention officer injured, stabbed by inmate

Jayonna Jennings and Tunisha Holmes, former employees with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, say others still working at the jail are afraid of retaliation if they speak out.

Ochsner asked Sheriff Garry McFadden what he’s doing to address the problems.

In recent weeks, two detention officers were assaulted by inmates inside the Mecklenburg County jail, according to press releases from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office.

“So, I called you because I was concerned mostly about the safety of the staff at the jail,” Jennings said.

Jennings said the two recent assaults on corrections officers aren’t the only attacks on staff members lately.

Related: ‘Tensions are high’; Inmate accused of attacking 3 detention officers, sergeant in Mecklenburg jail

Jennings said she left her job in March because she feared for her safety.

“I do think it was a great decision, yes,” Jennings said of leaving. “I took a significant pay cut, but I’m safe. I’m home with my kids and looking at the jail now. It’s a mess. It’s just very dangerous, and very short staff.”

Holmes told WBTV she left her job as a detention officer at the jail earlier this year because her doctor told her she couldn’t continue to work there.

“The doctor diagnosed me with PTSD, anxiety and depression, and it came from the jail,” Homes said. “I would go home and hear the inmates kicking and screaming, like the doors are being kicked open in my sleep.”

Both former detention officers say staffing at the jail has gotten worse over the past year with little being done to restrict inmate movement to keep staff safe.

“Everything is running like it’s normal, but they’re understaffed and that’s dangerous,” Homes said.

Ochsner asked one of the former detention officers if she things Sheriff McFadden knows what’s going on at the jail?

“I don’t know if he understands, but he knows, because I’ve gone down and had a conversation about certain areas,” Holmes said.

Ochsner brought up the safety concerns to Sheriff McFadden.

“Sheriff we have talked on camera with two former corrections officers who worked at your jail who said they both left their jobs because they feared for their safety. What do you say to that?” Ochsner asked.

“Well, you know, they didn’t talk to me,” Sheriff McFadden said. “I have an open door policy. I’ll understand their concerns.”

Sheriff McFadden defended his handling of the jail, saying staff have been working in tough conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also blamed his predecessor who left office nearly three years ago.

“Staff are fatigued, just like everyone else,” McFadden said. “Staff is going through stress of COVID-19 just as everyone else. All these playing a factor, but we still have 1500 men and women here, which are and will remain in our custody and care.”

“We have these meetings many times, but simply having a staff that is sometimes unable to provide what we need here is an issue and is a problem and what we have inherited here. It is the culture and historically this is what they have been told not to communicate with the upper parts of the administration here.”

Ochsner asked the Sheriff, who is nearing the final year of his first term, at what point does he become responsible for the culture inside the jail.

“I’m responsible,” McFadden said. “I took responsibility and let’s make sure we get this right, Nick because we don’t want to sound bite it to say I’m saying something else. I’m taking responsibility, but it takes my staff also to take the initiative and the authority that I give them to help make this place.”

Ochsner: And you’re still in touch with people who work at the jail.

McFadden: Yes I am.

Ochsner: When you talk to them, what do they say?

McFadden: You know they’re fearful for their lives. They’re scared to go to work, however, they have to stay because they have families to take care of.

Ochsner: What do you think the sheriff knows?

Jennings: The sheriff knows. He knows everything that’s going on. However, he chooses not to deal with it. He tries to sweep it under the bus like the jail is perfect.

Ochsner: What is gonna happen if things don’t change at the jail?

Holmes: The next report you’ll be doing is that officer was killed.

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