Four Jackson County jail inmates are facing felony charges for the Aug. 26 assault of a corrections officer, who suffered a concussion, a broken finger and other injuries.
One of the four inmates also is charged with a misdemeanor in another assault on a jail guard.
At a news conference Wednesday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker and Sheriff Mike Sharp said they hoped to send a message to other inmates that assaults on jail guards will not be tolerated within a facility where, according to a recent performance audit, the safety of staff and inmates is at risk because of overcrowding and insufficient staffing.
As a further deterrent, inmates who attack guards will likely be moved to other jails, where it may be more difficult for family members to visit them while detainees await trial for the new assault charges and the charges that put them in jail in the first place.
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“This shouldn’t happen, but it continues to happen,” Baker said. “We’re fed up.”
Fed up with the assaults, they said, and fed up with a jail operation that makes the violence possible in the first place. Baker said her prosecutors and Sharp’s deputies are forced to spend far more time than they should investigating crimes committed within the downtown Kansas City facility, ranging from sexual assaults to smuggling cell phones, drugs and other contraband.
“This really, really must stop,” Baker said. “The operations of this jail must improve.”
County Executive Frank White runs the jail. He did not respond directly to Baker’s call for action, but said he welcomed Wednesday’s announcement.
“It is my top priority to ensure that Jackson County operates a safe and secure facility,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are committed to supporting our corrections officers by working to provide fair compensation, appropriate training and a clean and functional facility. Holding inmates accountable for their actions when these incidents occur is essential to maintaining a safe and secure facility.”
He further said he was “confident that the serious nature of these charges will send a strong message that inmates who choose to engage in such dangerous and violent behavior will be held responsible for their actions.”
White and jail officials have previously acknowledged the difficulty of having enough staff on hand to adequately run the detention center complex, which houses upwards of 1,000 inmates, most of whom are awaiting trial. He recently proposed raising hourly pay rates for guards as a way to cut down on turnover.
The four men charged for assaulting the guard are, according to Baker, waiting for trial on charges ranging from attempted robbery to second degree murder.
Stephen A. Curtner, 20; Rodney V. Rodgers, 24; Osiris N. Sneed, 20; and Tyrone E. Willard, 20, now face up to seven years in prison for the new assault charges. In addition, Willard was charged with a misdemeanor in connection with an Aug. 6 assault of another corrections officer.
Bond for Curtner, Rodgers and Sneed was set at $75,000. Willard’s bond was set at $100,000.
According to court records, the Aug. 26 attack was premeditated.
“He was a target,” Sharp said.
The beating of the unnamed corrections officer lasted 90 seconds, Baker said, and was captured on video, some 20 seconds of which was released to the public.
“It just really makes me angry to watch it,” Baker said.
It shows the corrections officer descending a flight of stairs into the commons area of the administrative segregation unit on the detention center’s fifth floor. The guard knew he was facing danger from the taunting inmates below, Baker said, but feared that if he was cornered on the unit’s top level he might be thrown over the rail.
When the officer gets to the bottom stairs, two inmates rush up and start punching him, while a third runs from the other end of the unit and joins in as the officer attempts to protect his face from the blows.
A fourth man, identified as Willard, appears to be a lookout and did not hit the guard, according to court records.
Sharp and Baker questioned why the guard was put at such risk. According to jail policy, only one inmate in that unit should have been allowed out of his cell at a time, court records said. Sharp said his department is still trying to learn how and why the four attackers were able to roam the unit at 10:30 that night.
As the attack was about to begin, the guard radioed for assistance, but backup did not arrive immediately, Sharp said, because of the jail’s multi-floor design.
“There was help coming,” Sharp said, “but the way the jail is built, you know, they gotta come up the elevator, up the stairs and it took awhile.”
County officials are discussing whether to build a larger, single-level jail or renovate the current one.
A consultant recently estimated that a new jail that added no additional beds would cost upwards of $180 million. And a larger one would cost more.