Open Meeting Held After Fiscal Court: Sheriff & Deputies Discuss Death Threats & Keeping Criminals In Jail, Ask Fiscal Court To Explore Options
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Today's fiscal court meeting was business as usual, approving reports and the typical bills; however, Sheriff Shane Doyle addressed the court during his regular report in regards to death threats that he and multiple members of his office received during a recent vehicle accident to which his office responded, and the situation in which his office was placed due to bureaucracy and red tape of the court and jail system as a result.
Doyle said that one of his deputies, Detective Wally Ritter, responded to a recent crash where the crash victim, whose name is being withheld for safety reasons, began threatening emergency workers on scene. In an attempt to help the victim, Doyle said the victim began calling the emergency workers out by name and telling each one that he was going to kill them.
According to Doyle, the crash victim, who had to be extricated from the vehicle by local volunteer emergency workers, told Detective Ritter that he was going to kill him the next opportunity that he had. Furthermore, that if he couldn't find a gun to use, he would take Ritter's gun from him and kill him with his own gun. The crash victim also allegedly told Ritter that he would also kill members of his family.
Doyle said the victim was taken to the hospital for neck and back injuries and was later sent home in a back brace and what is known as a "halo," which is a protective neck brace that is stabilized with supports that rest against the head.
Doyle said his office obtained warrants for the crash victim's arrest for bond revocation (on a previous charge) and found the man at his home, mowing the lawn. He was arrested and taken into custody where according to Doyle, he taunted officers that wouldn't stay in jail. Doyle said the man ended up being right, because within 24hrs, the man was released due to medical issues.
The Sheriff said he is fully aware that Hart County Jail is not equipped to handle inmates with serious medical conditions like Warren or Grayson County Jails can, but he said he felt like when he asked for local help on what to do with the inmate, no one considered the real severity of the situation.
"Basically, it was, 'I don't know what else to do, we're just going to have to let him go and then have to pick him up later'," Doyle said. "He (crash victim) was supposed to go to the hospital, but we didn't know if he'd do that. He had the option, if he wanted to, to check himself out and go home--go find a firearm, or who knows what he would've done. I think he's just about capable of anything."
Doyle said that through a series of phone calls with State Representative Michael Lee Meredith, a plan to incarcerate the man was put into action. Meredith was able to contact John Tilley, KY Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, who was then able to see the man would be incarcerated at the KY State Reformatory in LaGrange, KY where inmates needing medical care are housed.
"I believe strictly because of Michael's work, this individual that threatened all of our people is now going to be properly incarcerated," said Doyle. "I'm not saying that (Jailer) Hank (Vincent) did something wrong here. I'm not saying that (Hart County Jailer) Israel (Bergenson) did something wrong here. I'm saying what we didn't do, was explore all of our options and we didn't try to see what kind of help we could get."
Doyle said that his responsibility as a law enforcement officer is to try to enforce the law and see that those who break the law are punished according to the law. He then asked a question to the fiscal court.
"If Hart County can no longer house our people, what are we going to do? I'm not asking to build a jail tomorrow. I understand there are cost applications, personnel issues, regulations, and things to consider, but what I'm asking is, we have to have a backup plan if Hart County gets too full or if we become too big of an issue (for Hart County). We're going to continue to lock people up. We're going to do that and I know it costs money, but that's what we're here for, to provide safety and security for this county. That's my number one priority, and that's what it's going to be as long as I'm in this position." He then pointed to all the deputies sitting in the room. "And every one of these people feel the same way."
Judge Cannon invited anyone interested in a more in-depth discussion on the matter to stay after the regular fiscal court meeting for an open discussion. After a short recess following the meeting, Judge Cannon, Sheriff Doyle, magistrates, members of the sheriff's office and several of their spouses, along with a handful of citizens stayed to discuss more.
A family member of the man in discussion, whose name was asked to be withheld for safety, spoke during the open meeting and said he was indeed a threat and that twelve other members of the family's lives had been threatened. She said she asked for assistance from the Judge's office but was told there was nothing that could've been done.
Deputy Jordan Jones and Det. Ritter both discussed how difficult it was to see those arrested in drug cases and other serious crimes come home later that day, only to sometimes immediately commit the same or similar crime again. They, along with Sheriff Doyle asked for a panel or a committee to explore the possibilities of other jailing options for when a situation like this reoccurs.
Hart Co. Jailer Bergenson said that he and Judge Cannon tried to contact the KY State Reformatory but said they were told they had eleven people in line ahead of them. He said he was told there was nowhere else to take the man.
Judge Cannon said he contacted another jail and described the situation to the jailer, which he did not name. Cannon said the jailer told him that they would have likely turned him away as well because of the medical liability.
"We all wanted him in jail, that's not the question," Cannon said. "I'm glad Michael Meredith was there, I'm glad he was called, but that was outside of the normal procedures of going about doing things. I am guilty of always looking at the rules and going by the rules, that's just the way that I am. I've been taught that my whole life, in the military, and everything else is 'go up the chain of command, stay within the box,' but I told Shane that now on, I have to start looking outside the box."
Cannon also discussed why a building a jail in Edmonson County simply wasn't possible now or in the near future.
He said that even if a new jail, which would have to be a 200 bed facility, was built for free, the county couldn't even come close to funding the expense, the personnel, and the equipment necessary to operate a jail. He said opening the doors to house federal inmates wouldn't be a viable solution, either because there would be competition from other jails looking to house them, too.
Magistrate Edd Rich said that the county has explored options of building a jail ever since he was a magistrate. He said that the KY Dept of Corrections told he and others back in June that there were 500 empty beds in KY jails in small counties. He said state prisoners aren't sent to small county jails, but rather larger, regional jails.
"Glasgow built a jail with 150 beds and it cost them $9 million dollars," said Rich. "And that's just what they had to borrow. I wish we could do a jail because that would create probably 125-130 workers."
Cannon said there were 42 counties in KY without jails, most all of which with populations between 12-13K. Edmonson County has a population of 12,007 according to a 2015 study of the United States Census Bureau.
The discussion went on for around an hour and a half while Cannon discussed the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to fund a jail, not including the cost of building, which would be in the millions. He included salaries, utilities, food, employee benefits, retirement, and other costs, all adding up into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dollars which he says the county doesn't have.
"We're just now starting to build things back up," said Cannon. "We've made improvements to our parks, we've done a few things. We're just now finally able to keep all our bills paid. We can't go out here and do something that will bring financial ruin to this county. We need a handicap ramp built out in the front of the courthouse and even if we do most of the work ourselves, it's going to cost somewhere around $20,000. We can't even afford that, much less a jail now."
Judge Cannon read a letter from another member of the man's family which discussed the need for the man's medical care. While the family member said she did not condone illegal activities, she discussed how his medical needs were important, and that the man's medications were not transported with him when the Sheriff's office arrested him on his bond revocation.
Sheriff Doyle said he personally asked the man if he needed to get any medication or anything else from his home before he was transported to jail. Doyle said the man told the officers he didn't want them in his home and asked to just go to jail because he knew he wouldn't be there long. There was no further discussion about the letter.
The conversation went back to paying for a new jail. Cannon said in order to pay for a jail now, property taxes would virtually have to be doubled in order to come close to funding a jail, which couldn't happen because of the limit in increments in tax rates allowed by law. In addition, he said other county offices would be forced to see huge budget cuts that would severely alter their current operations, including the Sheriff's office and Parks and Rec.
"I think we're getting off point," said Deputy Jones. All we're asking for is just a panel of people to look at this and see what other solutions are out there. If we can't build a jail, then let's see what else we can do and talk about the future. There's no overnight fix."
Cannon said that he didn't see that a panel of people would be able to do any more than what has already been done.
"If we put a panel together and were able to find a bucket of money somewhere, I still don't think it would come close to being what we'd need to get this thing started," he said.
Local business owner Josh Casey suggested that a panel of people may not change things, and that the panel could very well be made up of the same people in the room, but that it would keep the dialogue open, which is what he felt was necessary.
Cannon said that if the county spends its money wisely and is able to save over the next few years, then some larger projects could be done in the future.
"I'm not opposed to anything, especially that's good for Edmonson County," he said. "But I am opposed to something that's going to destroy us up front."
Sheriff Shane Doyle closed by asking the court to keep an open mind.
"Please just don't take anything off the table," he said. "Let's just try to keep working for a short term and a long term solution. And to keep us informed. It sounds like there was a lot of work done here that I didn't know was done. My door is always open at the Sheriff's office. I want you to come check on us. Stop in and see what we're doing. Let me know what you need in your districts, because if we don't have these conversations, we'll be wondering what the other one is doing. I appreciate what's been done in our department but we still need things that we don't have. We're trying to do a good job for you guys to keep this community safe. I appreciate the open discussion we were able to have."