Luster: Jail woes caused by ‘vacuum of leadership’
by Jennifer Cohron
Mar 21, 2014 | 3462 views | 0 0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Two inmates briefly escaped from the Walker County Jail Wednesday night because of faulty locks in the facility. County officials are working to try to find a way to fix the problem and make sure the jail is secure. Daily Mountain Eagle - Ron Harris
Two inmates briefly escaped from the Walker County Jail Wednesday night because of faulty locks in the facility. County officials are working to try to find a way to fix the problem and make sure the jail is secure. Daily Mountain Eagle - Ron Harris
Walker County Commission Chairman Billy Luster on Thursday cited “a vacuum of leadership” at the Walker County Sheriff’s Office as the reason that security problems at the jail were not addressed before two inmates escaped Wednesday night.

“The sheriff is the constitutional officer elected by the people to be the department head over the jail and the sheriff’s department. It is his job to monitor the budget and to do the day-to-day operations of those two departments. It’s tasked to him. We have no supervisory authority over that gentleman whatsoever,” Luster said.

According to Luster, commissioners have been waiting in recent months for a representative of the sheriff’s department to send out a sealed bid package for the repair of locks at the jail.

Luster said commissioners are prepared to solicit bids if immediate action is not taken by the sheriff but added that most department heads choose to handle their own affairs when problems arise.

“It is not our job as the county commission to enter the county jail, go find out what the problem is, go find lock companies and ask them to make sealed bids,” Luster said.

Sheriff John Mark Tirey said he was made aware that commissioners expected him to obtain bids at a March 13 work session and questioned whether he had the authority to do so.

“The sheriffs across this state do not have the authority to enter into a bid or contract. There are Attorney General opinions on it. It’s not like I am sitting here saying, ‘I’m not going to bid it,’” Tirey said.

Tirey also stated that he had never requested bids for any project in his 20-year career as sheriff and that the task has traditionally fallen to the county engineer.

The most recent example cited by Tirey was the purchase of two patrol vehicles and a van for the jail. Tirey said those bids were not handled by his office.

Jail administrator Trent McCluskey reported that he delivered an initial bid for the repair of locks to the county attorney, county administrator, commissioners and the county engineer Thursday afternoon.

McCluskey said that although he has now seeked bids for the lock repairs, he has never before been involved with the bidding process.

“It has been my position that I deal with the constitutional level of care at the facility. I don’t get terribly bogged down with the financial side of it. I simply carry those needs to the financial director, the county commission, and ask them to meet those constitutional needs,” McCluskey said.

Luster said there is currently $115,000 that could be used to fix the locks at the county jail.

The figure includes $65,000 remaining in a line item for repairs and maintenance  and an additional $50,000 allocated by the commission several months ago following an executive session to discuss security concerns.

Tirey said he expects to have to use some of the money currently available in his budget to cover other expenses such as hygiene products for inmates and fuel for patrol vehicles.

“It was stated pretty emphatically to me that there weren’t going to be any budget amendments. They weren’t going to add any more to it, so I’ve been operating under the pretense that when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Tirey said.

Luster said the only proposal that commissioners have received through the sheriff’s department from a company interested in fixing the locks was delivered in July 2013. The estimated price tag for the project was $56,520.

Luster also confirmed that several consultants, some of whom he has met with personally, have been in the jail to investigate the problem with the locks.

Luster said those estimates have ranged from $50,000 to $250,000, depending on the scope of the project. “We are not going to retrofit that entire jail with a whole new security system. We are going to repair what we have,” Luster said.

Suspect returned to Jasper from Mississippi

A man wanted on felony escape charges was extradited back to Jasper Wednesday after being arrested by Mississippi authorities earlier this week.

Manuel Wayne Posey, 49, of Carbon Hill, was arrested Monday after being located in Attala County, Miss.

Attala County Sheriff Tim Nail said information was given to the Kosciusko Police Department by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office that Posey may be living in the area.

“Kosciusko police looked into it and found out he was living in a rural part of the county,” Nail said.