Ala. sheriff commends inmates who helped CO during assault

"If not for the actions of the inmates, it is very likely Officer Woodall would have been killed," said Sheriff Phil Sims

By Donna Thornton
The Gadsden Times
GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — Sheriff Phil Sims on Monday provided details about what authorities say occurred Saturday at the Marshall County jail, when a corrections officer was injured. Sims commended inmates in the jail who came to her rescue.

The sheriff said overcrowding and design issues at the jail contributed to the inmate's ability to grab scissors from a desk door at the corrections officer's work area and attack the jailer.

Marshall County Corrections Officer Melissa Woodall was attacked by an inmate with a pair of scissors on Saturday.
Marshall County Corrections Officer Melissa Woodall was attacked by an inmate with a pair of scissors on Saturday. (Marshall County Sheriff's Office)

Sims said at about 11 a.m. Saturday, CO Melissa Woodall had opened the door to a holding cell to let a 21-year-old female inmate go to the restroom. Because of overcrowding and COVID concerns, he said, the jail is using some makeshift holding cells without restroom facilities inside them.

When Woodall opened the cell door, Sims said, the inmate assaulted her and both fell. The young woman then was able to open desk drawers and find the scissors, and he said she used then to attack Woodall.

"Other inmates saw what happened," the sheriff said, "and Woodall was able to reach up and 'pop' the door to the women's main cell block and several inmates rushed in," pulling the assailant off Woodall and holding her until corrections officers came.

Sims said it was an inmate who picked up the phone to call for help.

"I want to name those inmates," he said, "and commend them."

Valerie Moore, Katie Moore, Janice Brooks, Stephanie Grimstad, and Mary Williamson selflessly came to Woodall's aid, the sheriff said.

The jailer sustained four stab wounds to her head and one to the arm, but Sims said she is doing well. He said she was in good spirits — already talking about returning to work.

"She's a champ," he said, and well respected by inmates.

"If not for the actions of the inmates, it is very likely Officer Woodall would have been killed," Sims said. "One of the wounds was a puncture behind the ear which just missed the main artery."

Emily Sledge, 21, of Albertville, has been charged with attempted murder in connection with the assault. She had been arrested the week before on a drug charge. Sims said she was in isolation, in part because of COVID-19 protocols and because of her behavior since in jail.

Sims said all the proper protocols were followed. He was asked at a press conference if the inmate should have been handcuffed.

"It's hard to handcuff someone when you open the door and they start whaling on you," he said.

Sims said the jail is overcrowded; it's designed to house 196 inmates, but is holding 282 — including 78 state inmates.

He said the jail is undergoing renovations that will help with some of the issues — such as having to take an inmate out of holding cell to go to the restroom.

He noted that a Morgan County corrections officer was assaulted last week. The female officer was punched twice by a male inmate being held on a capital murder charge, Howard Koplowitz of reported.

According to the news story, the inmate asked for a smoke break at mealtime and the jailer told him he could have one after mealtime was done. She sustained a concussion, bruising and swelling to her face and eye.

The Morgan County Sheriff's Office released photos of the officer's injuries. Sims released photos of Woodall's images as well.

He noted that it is National Corrections Officer Week, and he said those officers are often forgotten in the criminal justice system.

"They dedicate themselves selflessly to the care and custody of inmates in jails throughout the nation," Sims said. "The job is often low pay and long hours. The job itself is done by individuals with a calling to serve and protect within a correction facility and who often deal with violent people."

Sims commended Woodall and all of Marshall County's corrections officers.

[Next: Corrections officers, thank you for your service, courage and commitment]

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