N.C. Sheriff makes appeal for a new jail
"I'm afraid someone is going to get hurt or killed on my watch. I don't want to get sued. If I get sued, you all will get sued."
By Kellen Holtzman
Henderson (N.C.) Daily Dispatch
HENDERSON, N.C. — At the request of Sheriff Curtis Brame, the Vance County Commissioners this week approved doing a study for a new Vance County Detention Center.
Brame appealed for a new jail Monday during an in-person presentation, which concluded with the sheriff suggesting to the board that it consider raising his salary.
"If we do not address these concerns," Brame said, referring to the detention center, "I'm afraid we're going to end up in a civil lawsuit."
Brame's comments Monday followed the release of the results of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services biannual inspection of the Vance County Jail that was completed June 14.
Documents from the inspection were included in the county agenda packet. The Dispatch reported on Tuesday the deficiencies the state found in the inspection, which included "missed rounds" of prisoner welfare checks.
Brame detailed the sheriff's office's struggle with staff shortages in Monday's meeting before moving on to the physical condition of the jail and requesting the study.
"We are in an emergency crisis regarding the safety of our staff and detainees," Brame said. " The Vance County Detention Center is at an all-time low with staffing. There are days and nights when there's only one or two detention officers providing security for [up to] 140 inmates."
Brame said that with less than minimum staff on duty, detainees can overpower the detention center officers and "take over the detention center," and asserted that detention officers cannot make proper rounds short-staffed, which also puts the detainees at risk if emergency medical attention is required.
The jail is "outdated" and "antiquated," according to Brame, who said the structure of the facility lacks proper design for segregation, quarantine or isolation for detainees with behavior issues or for those who are ill.
Brame said the detention center was constructed in 1991 as an addition to the existing jail that was built in the 1950s.
"It was not built for the future," Brame said. "We have outgrown it. It's unsafe. I invite you all to come down there and take a look. I'm afraid someone is going to get hurt or killed on my watch. I don't want to get sued. If I get sued, you all will get sued. I don't want none of you all to get sued. I don't want the county of Vance to get sued."
County Manager Jordan McMillen said later in the meeting the county had spent "a couple of million" dollars on renovating the jail a decade ago and that he supported going forward with a study on a new facility.
Responding to questions from the board, Brame said he believes there isn't space to properly upgrade the jail and that an entire, new facility would be needed instead.
"Most new detention centers have a booth operator who can watch the whole jail," Brame said. "The jail is built around the booth operator. We've got three booth operators and none of them have line of sight of the inmates.
He added that "the staffing problem is not going to go away overnight, but we've got to build a facility that's safe."
The staffing problem, Brame said, includes the detention center needing 46 officers and currently having 22.
Commissioners Chairman Leo Kelly Jr. inquired how other area law enforcement agencies are coping with staff shortages, which have been reported around the state.
Brame suggested higher salaries would help.
"I'm asking each and every one of you," Brame said. "You work for the Vance County Detention Center for $34,000. The worst place in the world to work — housing 47 murderers — rapists, drug offenders."
The dialogue between the board and the sheriff then shifted to violent offenders being detained for extended periods of time, sometimes waiting indefinitely for court trials.
Brame also suggested an "emergency diversion" plan that could include housing detainees in other nearby detention facilities.
A regional detention facility, similar to those that exist elsewhere in the state, was briefly discussed by Brame and the board as a potential future solution before Brame thanked the county for a salary study that yielded "much-deserved" pay increases for some sheriff's office employees.
But Brame expressed to the board that he believes he should have been considered for a raise beyond the 2% one he received July 10 following the salary study. Brame referred to the 2% increase as a cost-of-living adjustment.
Brame lamented that he never reached the maximum compensation on the county's salary scale before retiring as a captain in 2016 and said his officers also don't achieve max salaries.
"I've been serving this county for 38 years," said Brame, in his fourth year as sheriff, "and was not recognized in getting anything in the salary study and I don't think that's fair."
Brame's salary increased in July to $111,244. McMillen said on Wednesday that the sheriff's salary was included in the study, and its conclusion was that Brame's salary was "in line with the market for similar positions."
McMillen addressed the state inspection in his remarks to the commissioners, saying many of the citations issued by the state were "maintenance related."
"The sheriff and the jail administrator have already prepared a corrective action plan that the state has accepted," McMillen said. "Certainly there's a need for us to make sure that the jail is maintained."
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