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Correctional officers disciplined amid abuse probe

W.Va. State Police investigating beating allegations from inmates at Western Regional Jail

By Jared Hunt
Charleston Daily Mai

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Six correctional officers have been sanctioned and another has resigned as an inmate abuse investigation continues at Western Regional Jail, state Regional Jail Authority Director Joe DeLong told lawmakers Monday.

DeLong also said that criminal charges could still be brought against some officers as members of the West Virginia State Police complete their investigation into one of the alleged beatings.

Two weeks ago, DeLong told members of the Legislature’s regional jail oversight committee that nearly a dozen Western Regional Jail officers had been suspended as part of an investigation into two alleged excessive force incidents at the jail.

One inmate had to be hospitalized for broken ribs, a collapsed lung and broken vertebrae as a result of one of the beatings.

While state police were still investigating both incidents, DeLong said Monday, the authority had completed its investigation of the incident involving the inmate who was not hospitalized.

As a result of the internal investigation, DeLong said one officer resigned and disciplinary actions were taken against six others.

DeLong declined to name those involved or discuss specific personnel actions with lawmakers Monday but said those actions “ranged from termination to suspension.”

Lawmakers asked DeLong if he thought any officers would face criminal charges in connection to the incidents, and DeLong said that was still unclear.

“What they are doing from a criminal matter, to my knowledge, is still ongoing, so I cannot share with you any findings at this point,” he said.

Eight officers remain on suspension in connection with the other incident, DeLong said.

In response, DeLong said he is looking at restructuring middle management at regional jails.

He said most of the incidents occur during the evening hours, when top jail administrators have left for the day and corporals or sergeants are left to supervise entry-level officers.

“It doesn’t matter how good we are at the top . . . if we fail in the middle, we fail at all levels, because so much of the jail is dependent of that,” DeLong said. “What I’ve found is that we offer little training for corporals and sergeants who are shift commanders.”

DeLong also said a promotion to shift supervisor entails a lot more responsibility but comes with only a $1,000 annual pay raise.

He said most officers choose to stay in their original position because they can make more money working overtime. Others choose to take better paying jobs elsewhere.

“It creates a challenge to recruit middle managers,” he said.

Lawmakers also expressed concern about the length of time it is taking.

“It seems to be outside the parameter of what I would consider a reasonable time to conduct investigations,” said Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette.
Laird asked if the Regional Jail Authority needed additional resources to conduct investigations. DeLong said he has virtually no investigations staff.

“I currently have one investigator with no experience,” he said.

As a result, he has pulled other administrators off their assignments to conduct investigations into alleged misconduct claims made by inmates.

“I have a deputy chief of operations who has investigated in the past who has been pulled off of his operations responsibilities to head up another investigation,” DeLong said. “I pulled my deputy director off of his deputy director responsibilities.

“We definitely are lacking resources in that area and are working to correct that,” he said.

DeLong did say he was working to recruit a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent to head up the authority’s investigations unit.

“But he needs a team to head up,” DeLong said.

“Ultimately, what I would like to have is five (investigators), where we can assign one to two jails,” he said. “I think that would meet our needs.”

Copyright 2012 Charleston Newspapers