No-taser policy for correctional officers at Muscogee County Jail raises concerns

FILE The Associated Press

As the number of inmates locked up at the Muscogee County Jail for violent crimes continues to increase, so does concern about the safety of correctional officers and other staff inside the crowded facility.

Sheriff Donna Tompkins said she will hold a meeting with some employees on Nov. 17 to discuss security and other concerns that deputies want to express. One issue that she expects may surface is whether correctional officers should be allowed to carry tasers in the jail.

Under current policy and procedures, only sergeants and above are allowed to carry the weapons. Tompkins said that has always been the case inside the jail.

“On the street, obviously, our deputies do have tasers,” she said. “But in a correctional facility you’ve got to have very close monitoring of any weapons in your jail because there’s always the possibility that if that inmate gets that weapon then we’re in deep trouble.”

Tompkins said a supervisor doesn’t have to necessarily be the one to use the taser, but one has to be present when the weapon is deployed.

“But if you’re in a situation and you’re thinking that this incident could likely end up in a use of force, you probably want a supervisor there anyway,” she said. “You don’t want a deputy handling that without a supervisor knowing what’s going on.

“Nobody carries a weapon in that jail, except for a pair of handcuffs and we do have tasers that can be checked out by a supervisor that can be carried during their shift,” she said. “That way if they respond to an incident where there could be a use of force, to include a taser, they would have it available to use.”

The issue surfaces as the number of murder defendants continues to rise. In a September interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, Tompkins said those defendants accounted for 6 percent of the inmates at the jail, which was full beyond capacity. In addition to the number of murder defendants, the jail also has been housing hundreds of gang members. Tompkins said the jail was down about 30 officers.

On a day to day basis, correctional officers rely on their verbal and physical abilities to defuse situations, rather than weapons, Tompkins said Wednesday. The jail is also equipped with additional safety equipment should a riot or other violent situation develop. In some cases, a special response team could be brought in.

If an inmate is caught with a handmade weapon such as a shank, the situation will be handled, she said. However, guns are not allowed in the facility.

“I don’t care if you’re a correctional officer or you’re the warden, that’s the same,” she said. “Nobody walks through the back doors of that jail with a weapon on, nobody.”

Yet, the sheriff said she’s willing to listen to deputies’ concerns to see how some things might be done differently.

“We’re having a meeting Nov. 17 to discuss some of these concerns, and I’m going to give them an opportunity to tell me what their concerns are,” she said. “Part of it may be that we’re not as staffed as we need to be or as I would certainly want us to be.”

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter