MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Severe understaffing at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center is putting both guards and inmates in danger.
"We don't have the staff to make those standards," Sheriff Garry McFadden said in an interview with WCNC Charlotte's Nate Morabito. "We're doing the best we can."
State rules require at least two supervision rounds and inmate observation every hour. It also requires four supervision rounds and inmate observation every hour for inmates who are on what's considered special watch.
McFadden said his department is reassigning officers from the courts, community patrol, and reserves to try and increase detention center staffing.
"That is a concern," he said of the agency's failure to meet the minimum standards.
The sheriff said the state has not flagged the jail for the problem.
"You all aren't always making the rounds as required by the minimum standards," investigator reporter Nate Morabito pointed out.
"That is true," McFadden replied.
"So, that's a violation of minimum standards," WCNC Charlotte said.
"Well, the state hasn't said that yet," the sheriff answered.
A WCNC Charlotte investigation previously uncovered persistent attacks inside the jail, which have left detention officers working in fear. Confidential internal records obtained by WCNC Charlotte outline an increased risk of stabbings, attacks, and fights inside the detention center.
McFadden said the violence inside is a reflection of the world outside, not his leadership. He said the previous sheriff is to blame for the department's culture and told WCNC Charlotte his command staff and employees are partly responsible for recent jail attacks.
MCSO reports the department currently has 141 vacancies at jail central.
Fraternal Order of Police requests state investigation
The Fraternal Order of Police emailed county and state officials Thursday, requesting an independent investigation
A spokesperson for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees county jails, said the agency is reviewing the FOP's complaint letter.
"NCDHHS’s priority is the health, safety and well-being of all North Carolinians, including inmates and staff in local confinement facilities," Press Assistant Catie Armstrong said. "Complaints made to the NCDHHS Division of Health Service Regulation (DHSR) are confidential and are assessed for appropriate follow up. DHSR investigates complaints to determine whether a jail is in compliance with the requirements set out in 10 NCAC Subchapter 14J - Jails, Local Confinement Facilities. DHSR cannot comment on investigations or possible investigations."
McFadden responds in new statement
Following WCNC Charlotte's interview with McFadden Thursday, and following the request Thursday by the FOP, McFadden released this lengthy statement on Friday evening:
In response to yesterday’s story by WCNC’s Nate Morabito concerning conditions at Mecklenburg County Detention Center-Central, and further in response to the letter of NCFOP Lodge 9 Vice President Daniel Redford to County and State Officials which followed the WCNC story: I understand, appreciate, and share the concerns expressed by MCSO staff regarding their safety when working at the detention center. The increase in violent assaults against officers and in particular the possession and use of homemade weapons by residents at the detention center is intolerable and must be resolved. Furthermore, I accept and acknowledge that the responsibility for seeing to the safety of all MCSO staff ultimately falls to me. This is not a responsibility I take lightly and have issued multiple directives aimed to enhance the safety and security for personnel working in the detention center. We’ve implemented the Beckham Initiative, increased safety inspections, and alerts to bring about awareness of our most high risk residents while being ever so mindful of the balance between safety and dignity that must always be maintained in a detention facility.
FOP Vice President Redford calls for an independent investigation of MCSO management and operations. I would welcome and cooperate fully with any such effort. Obviously, there is need for significant improvements in our ongoing effort to curtail the violence in the facility. To the extent such investigation might shed light on how to make those improvements, it would be well received indeed. Moreover, I take great issue with Mr. Redford’s suggestion that “[t]he Sheriff has enacted directives and policies … circumventing State statutes and NC Jail Rules and Standards .…” and feel confident that an independent investigation would refute that baseless claim. Since I took office in December of 2018, MCSO has undergone meticulous audits as part of the accreditation process by the American Correctional Association (ACA), the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), the Jail Inspector of the North Carolina Division for Health Service Regulation (DHSR) as required by 10A NCAC 14J .1750, the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons pursuant to our agreement with the United States Marshals Service to house federal detainees – each time addressing any concerns and being commended for our policies and procedures designed to protect the safety of detention center residents and staff alike.
Finally, I feel compelled to address the suggestion that I have contributed adversely to the morale of MCSO staff in my efforts to manage the Office and the detention center in particular. It is difficult and humbling to read the criticism of some of the staff – former and even present – I recognize and acknowledge that I may have come across as less supportive and grateful than I truly am. For that unintentional and inaccurate appearance, I sincerely apologize. I have been concerned, upset, frustrated, even angry at times – especially as the instances of violence in the detention center have increased. And while I can give no assurances that those emotions will soon wane, I can and do promise to try harder not to let those emotions come across as unappreciative of the very difficult jobs the detention staff have. It’s difficult and emotional for me when I go to the hospital to check on injured staff members, or whenever I receive a call that an officer has been assaulted.
I recognize the importance of open communications and want all employees to have a voice and an opportunity to be heard which is the purpose of my open door policy. I stand willingly to address the issues and concerns of my Office and will continue to support the courageous women and men of MCSO.