The crisis at the Jackson County jail has taken a new, disturbing turn.
As The Star reported, officials with ties to Jackson County Executive Frank White have thought about ways Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp might be removed from office.
Sharp’s alleged offense? He ordered his deputies to stop investigating some infractions at the troubled jail. That edict came the day after White said it was not yet time to consider involving the sheriff in the operation of the facility.
“Effective immediately,” Sharp wrote on July 11, “the Sheriff’s Office will only respond to the Jackson County Jail for law enforcement duties that rise to the level of Part 1 crimes (Murder, rape, robbery, serious assault).”
The memo apparently angered someone in White’s office. Within the week, Jackson County Counselor W. Stephen Nixon said a legal argument could be made “that the sheriff has forfeited his office” by announcing the policy of limited response.
“The memorandum issued by the sheriff squarely raises the issue of whether he has abrogated his duty,” Nixon wrote.
The back-and-forth resembles a playground dispute between 8-year-olds.
And that is tragic because the jail is nearing a breaking point. Just last week, an inmate died in custody after being strapped in a restraining chair for more than two hours.
Guards stand accused of illegally beating a prisoner. A recent raid at the jail resulted in the arrest of correctional officers and allegations of illegal contraband.
Now, in the middle of this crisis, the county executive and the sheriff are trading rhetorical punches, escalating an embarrassing display of can-you-top-this politics.
“This is foolishness,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told The Star last week. “We have a jail that is in a serious crisis, and we need to move our attention and action back to the crisis rather than creating new crises.”
That’s absolutely correct. Both sides should move now to defuse this pointless squabble. Public apologies would be a good place to start.
White should welcome any help he can get to improve conditions at the downtown jail. That includes assistance from the sheriff.
And Sharp should offer whatever help his office can provide, including investigating all crimes in the jail.
Then the sheriff should join any discussion about steps Jackson County can take to alleviate problems with violence and corruption at the facility.
County officials have said they think they can get a handle on the jail crisis. “I’ve always been concerned about safety in the jail,” White said Monday. Sharp’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
Sharp’s policy remains in place. White’s office said Monday some infractions may be reported to Kansas City police, not the sheriff.
The county is running out of time. The federal courts ran Jackson County’s jail for years, and they could do it again.
This minor-league political spat wastes time for no good reason. Jackson County deserves better from White and Sharp.