GEORGETOWN, Ohio — The Brown County Adult Detention Center has closed due to unsafe working conditions for deputies, according to a sheriff's office memo obtained by WCPO.
The Brown County Board of Commissioners met with Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little in an emergency meeting Thursday to officially close the facility due to issues with the locking devices on some of the doors in the jail.
"If you cannot secure a jail, you cannot have a jail," said Commissioner Barry Woodruff.
Between 80 and 85 inmates were transported to the Butler County Jail Thursday, according to Brown County Sheriff’s Office Detective Buddy Moore.
Brown County will have to compensate Butler County for housing the inmates, he said.
"It’s gonna be expensive," Moore said.
"We're in a heck of a fix in this," Woodruff told WCPO.
Woodruff said it will cost the county $60 per inmate for every day they're housed in Butler County, which comes to roughly $5,000 per day to house the inmates moved Thursday.
Woodruff said the faulty locking system has been a looming problem for years. One corrections officer who has been with the jail for nine years told the commissioner this has been an issue all nine of those years, Woodruff said.
"We've had issues with doors in the past, but now's the time to stop and get it taken care of," Chief Deputy Carl Smith said.
The breaking point was a fight between two inmates last month: Deputies stepped in and were suddenly surrounded.
"Ten inmates had pushed open a day room door because it wouldn't lock and came out in between them and safety," Smith said.
The deputies' union, the Fraternal Order of Police, filed a grievance.
On top of the cost to move and house inmates in Butler County, Woodruff said replacing the faulty locks could cost anywhere from $600,000 to $1 million, not counting the $25,000 the county has already spent trying to repair the locks.
And replacing them isn't even a guaranteed possibility because they're "so old." "There's just not that many companies out there that fix jail doors," Woodruff said.
Brown County Sheriff Dwayne Wenninger notified jail staff in the Thursday memo.
He later released a statement to the public on Friday saying:
The Brown County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Brown County Commissioners’ Office, has closed our jail due to an unsafe work environment. Due to several aging doors that continue to malfunction to the point of being unable to lock, all prisoners and arrested persons will be transported to the Butler County Jail to be housed until further notice. A grievance has been filed by the FOP in regards to this problem and is agreed to by both the Sheriff’s Office and Commissioners’ Office. We have 3 companies that are submitting bids on the costs of refitting our doors. The projected time frame to have this completed will be 3 to 6 months. Unfortunately until this is completed we will have layoffs. At this time the exact number of employees to be laid off is unknown. All citizens should not be concerned as our deputies will be on patrol as usual to provide the same service as before.
Lt. Tammy Dillinger also confirmed the jail's closure, which the memo states will result in numerous layoffs. Those layoffs will go into effect Dec. 5.
Brown County Detention Center employees, who have a union contract, filed a grievance with the sheriff’s office in October, according to Moore. The sheriff's memo noted that corrections officers will be paid for the next three weeks.
But Woodruff said it remains unclear when the facility will be able to reopen. "The [Ohio Department of Corrections] will have to come down and inspect (the jail)," he said. "Our goal is to get this problem fixed as soon as possible."
"Everything in the grievance we agree with," Woodruff said.
The jail’s closure punctuates a troubled history at the detention center. In the last two years, two inmates have been found hanged in their cells.
On Oct. 3, 2013, deputies found 24-year-old Zachary Goldson hanging in his cell, a death that launched an extensive investigation into the deputies’ treatment of Goldson. Ultimately, a grand jury cleared the deputies of any wrongdoing in December 2014.
Two years after Goldson's death, his sister, Ashley Bard, filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's office alleging deputies used excessive force and violated her brother's constitutional rights.
In July 2015, deputies found 29-year-old Jeremiah Hall also hanging in his cell.