SEDGWICK COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — A security bombshell from the Sedgwick County Sherriff’s Office was released Thursday: a deputy was fired and arrested, resulting in a major security sweep of the entire jail.
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter says the fired jail deputy, Dustin Burnett, was on duty Sunday and saw inmates break contraband into the facility but did nothing to stop it or report it.
Easter says two cellphones and marijuana did get in. Three other drops (including an attempt to bring in a handgun) were scheduled but did not happen. It was all part of an attempt to cause a riot similar to the one last week at the Lansing Correctional Facility.
Last night, almost 170 deputies searched the entire facility for about six hours. They found a handcuff key, two shanks, and a butane lighter, along with the drug K-2 and fake Percocet pills laced with fentanyl.
Over the surveillance cameras in one jail pod, authorities saw an inmate lying on the ground in relation to a drug issue as another inmate gave him CPR.
1,469 inmates are in the Sedgwick County Jail, and that puts the jail over capacity. That’s why several county commissioners and the county manager say the problem has gone beyond a regular staffing shortage—some even calling it a staffing emergency.
“We had a really sobering presentation from the Sheriff,” said District 1 Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner.
Calls for change from several commissioners happened Thursday night as a result of what transpired this week at the jail.
“There are requirements by state law how many, you know, how many inmates can one person watch, and we’re really not able to comply with that right now,” said District 5 Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell.
Commissioner Howell says the jail needs at least 110 positions filled, which equates to a 49% vacancy rate.
“It’s already an emergency. We certainly can’t let it get any worse,” said Commissioner Howell.
Sedgwick County Manager Tom Stolz echoed those sentiments, adding the county needs to reevaluate how the community tackles crime as a whole.
“He needs the cooperation from the police departments, so we quit feeding so much into the jail,” said Stolz. “And then he needs cooperation from judges to move people out of the jail quickly.”
Commissioner Meitzner says the pandemic was the tipping point leading to the current crisis.
“A lot of people transferred out,” said Commissioner Meitzner. “We didn’t have the pipeline of people applying. So I think the two years of COVID and then the fallout from that has just been — that’s how it got there.”
Commissioner Howell says pay is also contributing to the problem.
“This inflation is, is impacting government. No one is, is able to pay last year’s wages,” said Commissioner Howell.
The Sheriff’s Office requested the commission increase the starting hourly rate for jail staff to $23.50 via a contingency fund in an attempt to alleviate burnout.
“We will be addressing that, his staffing concerns and his compensation concerns, over the next couple of weeks,” said Stolz.
“I think we can help him stop the staff problem that he’s got. At least, you know, put a Band-Aid on it,” Commissioner Meitzner said.
Commissioner Howell says there needs to be a thorough review of the entire jail system from top to bottom. Meanwhile, Commissioner Meitzner is hopeful more cameras coming online in the jail soon will help. Those will be implemented in the next 60-90 days.