Brown County jail reopens after lengthy delay, $1.5M spent - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Brown County jail reopens after lengthy delay, $1.5M spent

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(FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr) (FOX19 NOW Photo/Jody Barr)
BROWN COUNTY, OH (FOX19) -

Following a 12 week delay in reopening, Brown County welcomed back 68 inmates Wednesday morning. The jail was evacuated in November after decades of failures to keep the jail mechanically caught up with the county.

Jail staff had reported for years to the county commission the problems with the jail: they couldn’t keep inmates in their cells. The doors wouldn’t lock, sometimes putting pinning jail officers down with inmates in the way of the exits.
 
In November, the jail shut down and sent all inmates to Butler County where they’ve been housed ever since. Brown County’s spent $1.5 million in taxpayer dollars in the last 12 months on jail renovations and for Butler County to house inmates.

In November, the sheriff’s office load up 98 inmates and shipped them to Butler County. The county had no choice but to evacuate its 34 year old jail after the county’s insurer decided, enough was enough with the unsafe state of the jail.

Since November, Brown County taxpayers paid for the out-of-county housing and the daily 130 mile round trips between the two jails.

The ensuing crisis at the jail wasn’t a surprise to the county or the sheriff’s office. For more than 30 years, Brown County jail officers knew walking into work carried more risks than any other jail around. It’s not that the inmates were more dangerous than any other county. The problems here were that the cell doors inside the Brown County Detention Center wouldn’t stay locked.

After emptying the jail in November, it took Brown County’s three-member board of commissioners another three months to vote on a $343,400 spending plan to retrofit the jail’s obsolete locking systems to an updated system. 

Wednesday, the jail reopened. But, the county only took in 68 inmates and will not house female inmates in Brown County. The women will stay in Butler County until a new jail is built or another option is found that would allow Brown County to house more than 68 inmates.

If the male inmate count grows to more than 68, Brown County will ship those inmates to Butler County and will pay that county to house them.

WHAT IT’S COST SO FAR

A FOX19 NOW analysis of Brown County Commissioner records shows $520,017.50 spent in jail repairs since the county shut the jail down in November. Once inside, workers found a quarter of a million more dollars in needed repairs outside of the jail door locks.

In inmate housing alone, the county’s paid Brown County at least $857,920 to provide jail space for Brown County’s inmates since June 1, 2015. 

That total will likely top $1 million when the county cuts the next check to Brown County this week. 

In March, Brown County paid Butler County $153,540. That’s the highest monthly total since the jail was evacuated in November, county spending records show. That total does not include overtime or fuel expenses for daily inmate transports. 

Here’s a breakdown of the spending since Nov. 1, 2015: 

  • $4,500: air flow/lighting testing inside jail
  • $65,000: emergency sewer line repair
  • $790: jail trustee door replacement
  • $8,800: supply and return air grills
  • $343,400: jail door lock retrofitting
  • $14,000: plumbing repairs
  • $37,794: HVAC replacement in South Block
  • $4,000: architect hired
  • $12,982.50: jail swing doors repairs
  • $17,844: jail painting
  • $5,715: HVAC replacement in female block

“I’VE GOT TOO MUCH ON MY PLATE”

I don’t have time to deal with it, Mr. Barr.” 

That’s what Brown County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Carl Smith told FOX19 NOW last month; the second time we requested to photograph the jail and interview the sheriff’s office regarding the repairs and spending. Smith, who initially agreed to allow cameras in to photograph the repairs, changed his mind days later when he asked us to call him back to schedule the tour. 

“I’ve got too much on my plate right now,” Smith said before ending the phone call on May 31. We’d traveled to the jail on May 26 and met with Smith. During that meeting, Smith agreed to allow us inside and bragged about the repairs then. 

The jail was supposed to reopen April 1, Smith assured us during a December 2015 interview with him. The opening has been delayed and was 60 days behind at that point. Smith did not offer an explanation as to what happened to cause the county to miss the deadline and force the county to continue paying Butler County to house its inmates.

NO WOMEN ALLOWED

During our May 26 meeting with Chief Smith, he told FOX19 NOW when the jail does reopen, it will not house any female inmates. “It’s an all-male jail now,” Smith told investigative reporter Jody Barr.

“All women will stay in Butler County,” Smith said. 

The reason: even after more than a half-million dollars in repairs, the Brown County jail won’t be able to house all the inmates on the county’s jail roster. The jail is built to house 38 inmates, Smith said. 

But, Smith said, the county will allow 68 inmates back inside when the jail opens sometime in the middle of June.

All of those will be male inmates. 

Smith said any inmate booked into the jail after the 68 maximum will be driven to Butler County. With the reopening, all the female cell blocks will be eliminated and replaced with men, Smith confirmed.  

The county also knew they were well over the maximum capacity when the evacuation order came down in November 2015. The jail was at 98 inmates, both men and women. That meant there were triple and quadruple the number of inmates per cell in order for the county to house them all. 

On April 26, 2016 the county commissioners voted to spend $4,000 on an architect to submit a report on the possibilities of expanding the jail. The firm, TSHD Architects out of Portsmouth, Ohio, was hired without competitive bidding. Commissioner meeting minutes show the county was able to make the hire without seeking proposals from other firms because the $4,000 was below the amount that would require competitive bids. 

That report would give the county an idea of the potential costs of expanding the jail to allow the county to house its own inmates. 

Calls, messages and emails to Barry Woodruff, the president of the Brown County Commissioners, went unanswered for nearly a week. We were able to track Woodruff down as he walked into the Brown County jail this morning.

"You ain't getting a hold of me," Woodruff told FOX19 NOW in the jail's parking lot. "I'm done, forget it," Woodruff said. The commissioner did not answer any other questions as he walked into the jail.

We attempted to ask Commissioner Grey for an update on the project and when the jail would reopen. Grey would not participate in an interview, telling FOX19 NOW, "Nope," when we asked for information on the jail.

The only commissioner to provide information was Tony Applegate who said the county's Jail Task Force has met to deal with the overcrowding problem. The task force is considering whether to expand the current jail, build a new jail or to join in on a regional agreement that would join neighboring jails.

"We've still got an old jail that's undersized, unfortunately," Applegate said.

Applegate was aware the jail would not be housing any females and the county would have to keep paying Butler County to house its overflow when the jail is eventually reopened.

"We're still going to be undersized for the population we have. We'll probably be putting some in Butler (County) sill in the future," Applegate said.

“WE GOT LUCKY”

“I have four kids, I like to go home every night,” BCDC Corporal Dana McGuffey told FOX19 NOW during an interview inside the empty jail in December. McGuffey is the reason the county finally took the steps toward repairing the door locking system. 

McGuffey filed a grievance on Oct. 26, citing unsafe working conditions inside the jail after a door wouldn’t lock, letting about a dozen inmates out of a holding cell. 

“We had a fight on this block, it was down the hall. The day room door was broken. While we went down to attend to the fight, 10 to 15 inmates came out of this day room and into the hallway between us and the main door,” McGuffey told FOX19 NOW.

McGuffey and her fellow officers were outnumbered, but were able to talk the inmates into returning to their cells. 

McGuffey joined the BCDC in December 2009, but said she had no idea about the jail doors when she applied and no one informed her there was a problem, “I soon found out the more I got back in the jail. I’ve been here six years and there’s been issues since I’ve been here,” McGuffey said. 
It took the county’s commissioners another 16 days after McGuffey’s grievance to make a decision on what to. On Nov. 12, the county ordered an evacuation of the jail, sending all 98 inmates to the Butler County jail. 

“SERIOUS SAFETY CONCERNS”

The county admitted to FOX19 NOW that jail door failures were a daily event there and had been since around 1983. That’s when Brown County Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger said the company that manufactured the air lock systems for the jail went out of business. 

The BCDC cell doors open and close using a pneumatic system, powered by an electrical system. The problems, the sheriff said, cropped up as parts were worn and failed. When the county attempted to purchase replacement parts, the parts no longer existed, Wenninger said.

We filed an open records request with the county commissioners’ office, asking for spending records of all jail maintenance since Jan. 1, 2010. Those records show the commissioners’ were approving repair work as far back as January 2010, but the sheriff told FOX19, those repairs had been ongoing since at least 1983.

County records show the sheriff’s office sent a formal letter, trying to have the county commissioners fix the problem as late as November 2013. 
In a Nov. 1, 2013 letter, former Brown County Sheriff Chief Deputy John Schadle told the county the door problem posed “serious safety concerns” and needed to be repaired. Schadle continued, “This will cut maintenance costs, as fixing door problems is the reason most often listed on maintenance requests,” the letter shows. 

The records the county provided to us under the open records law do not show Schadle received a response from the county commissioners. 

Days later, the sheriff’s office called an Alabama-based jail door manufacturer in, asking them to provide an estimate for replacing the air locking system with a modern electrical system. 

In a Jan. 6, 2014 letter to the commissioners, Schadle listed an estimate from Willo Products at $364,000. The price would have resolved the three decade old jail door problem at the BCDC.

The records the county provided FOX19 NOW does not show the county commissioners responded to Schadle’s estimate or pursued further efforts to contract with a vendor to resolve the issue. 

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

Last fall, the county turned over hundreds of pages of records to us after we filed an open records request in November, investigating how the county allowed its jail to get to the point of a complete shutdown. Those records told the story about who was hired to perform the jail door repairs and how many tax dollars the county spent.

The records we requested only go back to January 2010. That month a jail door repair was made by Stan’s Electrical Construction, a Georgetown-based electrical contractor. The company is owned by Stan Pack, a man who retired in 2013. 

Pack’s company charged the county $25 an hour for labor to perform work on the jail doors and various other electrical and general maintenance work throughout the jail, the invoices show. It’s a rate Pack told FOX19 NOW he never changed in his 20 years of performing work for Brown County.

“I started in 1993 and it never changed until the day the commissioners quit using me,” Pack told FOX19 NOW. 

State records show Pack was a licensed electrical contractor until June 30, 2015 when his license expired following his 2013 retirement. 

County records show the county started paying another man to perform jail door repairs in December 2013. That contractor, Sam’s Electric, continued working inside the jail as late as November 2015, the county’s invoicing shows. 

Sam’s Electric is owned by Sam Mock, an Adams County man who worked for Stan Pack for several years before Pack retired in 2013 after his health forced him into an early retirement. 

County records show Mock charged the county $50,760.53 since December 2013. That money was paid to Mock’s “Sam’s Electric” for jail door repairs and various other maintenance at the jail.

The problem: the state of Ohio requires all commercial electrical contractors to carry an electrician’s license through the Ohio Department of Commerce. A search of the online data base shows no such license for Mock and a call to the ODC’s Columbus office showed Mock is not a licensed electrical contractor. 

A search of the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office corporation database does not show a filing exists for Sam’s Electrical, registered to Sam Mock. 

TRACKING DOWN THE MEN IN CHARGE

FOX19 NOW reached out to the Brown County commissioners’ office on Dec. 11, asking for an interview with the three elected officials about what we’d uncovered in this investigation. That call was never returned.

FOX19 NOW went to the county commissioners’ meeting on Dec. 14 to track the officials down and question them about the decades-old jail door issue and the contractors the county paid to repair the doors.

Commissioner Barry Woodruff told FOX19 NOW he would “do the talking” for the other two commissioners, Tony Applegate and Daryll Gray.

“You’ve got the camera on the guy that you can blame,” Woodruff told FOX19 NOW, “I’m fine being blamed for the doors not functioning, but it started 30 years ago.”

Woodruff was in office in 2013 when the sheriff’s office started sending the commissioners monthly jail maintenance updates. The county owns the jail and is responsible for the maintenance of it, the sheriff told FOX19 NOW. 

Woodruff admitted his board didn’t do anything then to further the sheriff’s attempts to gather quotes in order to permanently repair the jail door problem, “That estimate was looked at and we got the message back: that’s not how you bid county work. You don’t go off one estimate,” Woodruff said, “Taxpayers don’t like that.”

“We needed to get more (estimates) and it never came,” Woodruff said. 

The commission continued approving monthly spending on jail door maintenance in the interim, county invoicing records show. That spending happened without a competitively bid contract, Woodruff acknowledged. 

“QUIT ASKING THE QUESTION”

In the Dec. 11 interview, Brown County Commissioner Barry Woodruff admitted the county never checked the credentials of the men performing the work on the jail doors. The state requires commercial tradesmen to be licensed to perform work, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Our investigation found, Sam’s Electric owner Sam Mock, the man the county paid for jail door repairs since Dec. 2013 was not a licensed electrician. 

“Did we vet him to continue to continue the work? No,” Woodruff told FOX19 NOW. “Why not,” FOX19 NOW’s Jody Barr asked, “The same guy had been working on them for 30 years,” Woodruff replied. 

“We just didn’t do it,” Woodruff said. 

Woodruff said the county wanted to use local contractors and admitted it didn’t follow state regulations in using licensed contractors to perform that work. 

“Is this going to be your whole story because you’re running out of soap here with me,” Woodruff told FOX19 NOW when questioned further about failures to vet contractors. “You’re grinding hamburger way too much,” Woodruff said.

County spending records show the county paid Sam’s Electric $1,450 on Nov. 1 for “jail door maintenance.” That’s the last invoice the county shows from that contractor. 

On Dec. 11, we interviewed Brown County Chief Deputy Carl Smith to gather the latest information on the jail repair matter and questioned Smith about the county’s use of an unlicensed contractor. Smith told FOX19 NOW he knew nothing about that, but said he talked to Woodruff following our interview, and informed the commissioner of the questions we had regarding Sam’s Electric’s lack of a commercial electrician’s license.

When we interviewed Woodruff three days later, he indicated the county would not be using Sam’s Electric, “In the long term, probably not because of the licensing issue,” Woodruff told FOX19 NOW. 

SAM MOCK: “What’s that got to do with working on mechanical stuff?”

We tracked Sam Mock down at the business address listed on the Brown County invoices. The address is actually Mock’s home in Adams County. Mock agreed to an interview when we found him Dec. 14. 

Mock said electrical work was not the focus of his contractor work, despite his company’s name showing otherwise, “A lot of times I don’t fool with electrical components and if I do, it’s just replacing a transistor or a diode or something,” Mock said. 

Mock admitted the county knew he wasn’t licensed but kept him as the lone jail door repairman despite the state requiring electrical contractors to be licensed, “What’s that got to do with working on mechanical stuff,” Mock replied. 

Mock said he mostly worked on the “rollers” and other mechanical components inside the jail door mechanisms. He also performed welds and fabrication work on the doors when mechanical parts would break, Mock explained. 

Mock told FOX19 NOW he tried to become licensed but did not pass the examinations.  

Our investigation uncovered another change between the time Stan’s Electrical Construction lost the jail door work and the time Sam’s Electric took over the job: the hourly labor rate charged to the county doubled. 

Stan’s Electrical Construction charged the county $25 an hour for labor and Sam’s Electric charged $50 an hour
for labor, county spending records show. 

“Do you believe $50 an hour was a fair charge,” Barr asked Mock, “Sure. Absolutely,” Mock replied.  Mock defended his work, telling FOX19 that no one “knows that building better than me.” Mock carries a $1 million insurance policy, he claimed during the Dec. 14 interview. 

AFTER 30 YEARS, A FIX IS COMING 

Our analysis of county spending records shows, since January 2010, Brown County approved expenditures of $129,568.89 on parts and repairs to the jail doors. None of the spending provided a permanent fix, the records show.

The county, Commissioner Barry Woodruff told FOX19 NOW, spent $80,000 on jail door repairs in 2015.

In December, the county escorted engineers from Willo Products into the jail. The engineers took measurements and design plans to take back to their Decatur, Alabama headquarters to begin work producing retrofitted parts for modernizing the Brown County jail door locking system.

When we met with Woodruff on Dec. 14 he told FOX19 NOW the county had a “letter of intent” to award the contract to Willo Products but that a contract had not been signed. Willo Products won the contract out of five separate firms to bid on the job. 

The commission told FOX19 NOW the jail is set to reopen April 1, 2016. As of this report, the jail is still closed and the county’s still paying Butler County to house them. 

Meanwhile, Brown County deputies are making at least two trips daily between Brown County and Butler County where the county’s inmates are being held. A round trip averages four hours and 130 miles and takes manpower from the county, Chief Deputy Carl Smith told FOX19 NOW.

The deal is benefiting Butler County. Brown County is paying $60 a day per inmate to Butler County during the evacuation. The cost to tax payers is $4,020 a day, Smith confirmed.

If there are 49 or fewer Brown County inmates in Butler County's jail, Brown County pays $70 a day per inmate, commissioner records show. 

Inmate cost per day runs $35 a day in the Brown County jail.

Smith expects the Brown County jail to now reopen as early as the middle of June. 

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