MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Two days before state jail inspectors arrived at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center to begin investigating safety and staffing concerns, internal records reveal a guard found an inmate wandering the halls. According to an incident report obtained by WCNC Charlotte, a sergeant spotted the inmate, already facing domestic-related charges, in the hallway near an officer's desk area and sergeant's office.
The report said the man was first let out of his cell to use the bathroom but then walked around the recreation yard after he finished. Despite an officer telling him to return to his cell, the man eventually walked into the slider (the secure area between the pod and hallway with sliding doors on either side), the report said.
"I turned my back and heard the slider open, I thought that someone in the hallway had picked him up," the reporting officer said in the report. "I was contacted by (a sergeant) and told that he was wondering (sic) around the 3rd floor hallway at the movement control station and Sgt. Office."
The report reveals the inmate was eventually sent to single-cell confinement pending a disciplinary hearing.
"That's pretty alarming," Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Daniel Redford said. "It just goes to show you how short-staffed they are that this was able to occur. That's one of the things our members have been telling us repeatedly: where staff members would typically man these hallways, that hasn't been happening for months."
In the midst of WCNC Charlotte's reporting about rising violence inside the jail, Redford requested a formal state investigation in December on behalf of concerned officers.
"They deserve better than this," he said. "It needs to be safe. It needs to be an environment in which they can operate safely and unfortunately, that's not what's been happening."
"We feel vindicated," he said. "We're just happy that the state took our complaint seriously."
Inspectors substantiated the severity of the problem WCNC Charlotte identified, finding conditions that jeopardize the health, safety or welfare of inmates and detention staff. They also heard concerns that there are so few officers they may not be able to safely evacuate the 1,400 inmates in an emergency.
The sheriff declined an interview after announcing the inspection findings, but in a statement said, "We are exhausting all options to ensure the safety and security of MCDCC."
The state, as a result of the inspection, is now recommending the sheriff decrease the jail population by more than 25%, which is the equivalent of roughly 400 inmates. The sheriff is still working out the details but said that process is now underway. He anticipates transferring some inmates to other facilities and potentially releasing others who qualify.
"Once we have further information and concrete details on reduction efforts we will share those at that time," MCSO Public Information Manager Janet Parker said.
That isn't the only recent change. In the days after the inspection, personnel records show the sheriff demoted the major in charge of jail central. However, Parker said state law prohibits the sheriff's office from releasing details.
"All MCSO disciplinary records and internal investigation files are considered private and confidential and are protected," she said.