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Jailer's spokesperson blames retaliation by judge-exec for closing of troubled Grant County jail

Crude video, media coverage, lawsuit cited
Posted: 11:24 PM, Jul 12, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-13 19:51:16-04

WILLIAMSTOWN,  Ky. — Are crude comments on a video at the center of the decision to close the Grant County Detention Center?

The Fiscal Court's vote is "absolutely retaliation" by the county judge-executive and will cost the county more than it would pay to keep it open,  a jail official said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The jailer's release of a video showing Judge-Exec Stephen Wood making sexist comments about a county clerk last year is the real motivation behind Tuesday night's vote by Wood and the Fiscal Court to close the jail, according to the jailer's brother.

Major Jason Hankins, who manages day-to-day operations at the jail for Jailer Chris Hankins, said the 4-0 vote was due to  "the Connie McClure video, negative media coverage and the mudslinging and lawsuits" that followed.

McClure Ellington, 56, filed a federal lawsuit in January after Wood talked crudely about firing her during a meeting in the jail with Hankins and other county officials.

"I told [my wife] if I'm going to replace Connie, she's going to be blonde, 24, big t---," Wood said on the video. He then went on to tell a sexist joke, also using crude language.

SEE the video .

Asked why the jailer released the video to the media, Jason Hankins said a sign on the door clearly said that there was videotaping in progress.

"We expected a professional meeting about staffing. It showed his (Wood's) true colors," he said.

Despite Wood's claim that  money is the reason for closing the jail, Jason Hankins said the jail is in the midst of a $1.5 million renovation and called the vote to close it "the worst fiscal decision imaginable." 

He said Wood was lowballing when he said it would cost the county $900,000 per year to pay other counties to house Grant County inmates – and as it is, other jails are overcrowded and wouldn't be willing to take them.

"Within a 55-mile radius, I don't know who would take them. The Carroll County jailer said they're nearly full and they would only take them at $50 per day," Jason Hankins said.

 He said it costs Grant County $31.34 to house an inmate per day, and Grant County currently has 226 inmates. They were already in the process of moving some, he said.

Jason Hankins blamed a lack of staffing for operating problems at the troubled jail and said the Fiscal Court had ordered staffing cut to levels below those required by the Department of Corrections.

He said Wood and the Fiscal Court had approved a $50,000 increase in the budget, then withheld the money, preventing the jail from fixing heating-cooling units part of the jail. He said they had to move 18 inmates to adhere to regulations.

Jason Haskins said he was sad for jail employees who would lose their jobs but felt "relief" for himself now that he won't have to deal with Wood and the Fiscal Court anymore.

"It's been a very frustrating 18 months," since he started working there, Jason Haskins said.

"We were really close to being able to get this working."

Wood told WCPO the county simply can't pay for the jail. He recommended closing the jail within 120 days.

"It's been a problem, a nemesis, ever since we've had it," he said. "We feel like this is going to be best for the taxpayers, for the future of Grant County. We really didn't have any other choice. No revenue is coming in."

The embattled jail has churned out sour headlines for over 12 years, including multiple investigations and condemnations by the U.S. Department of Justice, at least three preventable inmate deaths and one deeply troubling story of an inmate who was sexually assaulted by other inmates as a guard egged them on, according to the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Inmates and staff have filed more than 50 lawsuits against former jailers and the jail during the past 15 years. Nearly $5 million has been spent so far to settle claims, with more payouts likely, according to KCIR.

In 2013, inmate Danny Ray Burden, a diabetic imprisoned for failing to pay $3,380 in restitution, died at the jail after guards refused to give him insulin.

Stacy Leach's son, Jose Pagan, is in the jail now and she told WCPO he calls her every day in tears about the "horrible" conditions in the jail.

"All them inmates need to be transferred somewhere else," Leach said.

Multiple administrators said they would try to address the facility’s problems but all failed. Wood admitted that he was one of them, but had choice words for Jailer Chris Hankins.

“Each time this court questioned something about the detention center, we were met with resistance, attempts to intimidate through lawsuits, personal attacks, name calling and mud-slinging on Facebook by a jail staff that regularly sat in the courtroom in uniform and recorded meetings for personal use to make a mockery of the process,” Wood said.

Wood said Chris Hankins had repeatedly refused to engage directly with other branches of the Grant County government and had imposed a serious financial burden on the county’s residents by adjusting the inmate population — and therefore the amount of money required to keep the jail operating — without informing other county offices.

Hankins’ predecessor Terry Peeples, who lost his bid for reelection last fall, also contributed to the high cost of the prison with mismanagement, abuse and hefty legal fees accrued by the lawsuits filed against him, according to KCIR.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Jacqalynn Riley, a district magistrate. “We’ve kicked this can down the road for a long time.”

But keeping the jail open was not an option, officials said.

"It’s not fair to the people of this county and it’s not fair to the other departments of this county,” said district magistrate Shawna Coldiron. "I pray — and I’ve prayed about it often — this is the best route to go."

The motion set a goal for  all state inmates to be transferred to other facilities within 90 days, for people arrested in Grant County to be processed in other locations and for current detention center employees to receive assistance finding other jobs.

The county will also send out proposals to determine the value of the 38-acre parcel of land that houses the detention center, presumably in order to sell it later.

“We understand that it’s probably going to be a burden, the avenue we’re taking, for a little while. We’re hoping we can bear that,” Coldiron said.