Jackson County and the FBI are investigating four recent cases of inmates who were allegedly physically abused by guards at the county jail. Both probes seek to learn whether they were isolated instances or part of a pattern indicating a broken system that needs reform.
Injuries to four male inmates ranged from bruises and stitches to a man who suffered multiple fractures, including a broken neck, when a guard or guards used excessive force after the man was restrained.
Four guards thought to have caused those injuries in separate incidents are no longer on the county payroll. All were members of the jail’s elite Critical Incident Response Team, which is called in when inmates cause disturbances.
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Officials would not say whether they were fired or left of their own accord.
They said there was no racial pattern to the attacks. Two of the victims are black and two are white. Three of the guards are black and one is white.
In announcing the twin investigations Monday, County Executive Mike Sanders said he was also forming a citizens panel to look into practices at the Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.
“We laid out a two-step plan to both invite a federal investigation, and to launch a pro-active independent review of jail policies and procedures,” Sanders said.
Alvin Brooks, a former Kansas City Council member and long-time head of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, will chair the four-member Jackson County Department of Corrections Task Force. The task force report is due in 60 days, although Sanders said it could take many months for the criminal investigation to conclude.
Other members of the task force include Lisa Pelofsky, former president of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners; William G. Eckhardt, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City; and John Fierro, president and CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center.
Joe Piccinini, acting director of the county corrections and a former Lee’s Summit police chief, first learned there was a problem last month when a nurse informed him that an inmate had been hospitalized with a broken neck, broken back, punctured lung and two broken wrists.
Further investigation turned up three other instances of guards allegedly using excessive force while restraining inmates in recent months, officials said. All were captured on video and all occurred involving guards on a team that gets eight hours of training above and beyond the training given other guards, Piccinini said. Members learn restraint techniques and how to deal with inmates who have mental impairments.
County officials were preparing to notify the FBI of their findings, they said, when the agency contacted the county to seek answers about a month ago.
The county’s own investigation will focus on the past year. The FBI probe could go beyond that, Piccinini said.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton confirmed that her agency is conducting an investigation into possible civil rights violations at the jail but could offer no further comment at this time.
In another case, a Jackson County jail guard was indicted last month by a federal grand jury for allegedly kicking an inmate in the head while restrained and posing no threat.