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State opens Mecklenburg County Detention Center investigation

Employees with the Division of Health Service Regulation visited the jail Tuesday amid concerns about increased violence and decreased inmate supervision.

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — A state complaint investigation is underway following concerns about officer safety, inadequate staffing and insufficient inmate supervision inside the Mecklenburg County Detention Center.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services confirmed employees from the Division of Health Service Regulation's Jails and Detention Unit were "onsite" at Jail Central Tuesday for a semi-annual inspection and complaint investigation.

"The investigation is ongoing, and we cannot comment on ongoing investigations," NCDHHS Communications Manager Kelly Haight Connor said.

The visit follows a WCNC Charlotte investigation that identified persistent attacks against guards and inconsistent inmate supervision in violation of state rules. The Fraternal Order of Police referenced WCNC Charlotte's reporting in a formal letter requesting increased scrutiny.

Following WCNC Charlotte's investigation, Sheriff Garry McFadden said he would welcome an additional investigation.

RELATED: Mecklenburg County Detention Center violating state supervision rules

"I would welcome and cooperate fully with any such effort," the sheriff said in a Dec. 10 statement. "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."

A sheriff's office spokesperson said the agency doesn't expect to have the state's official findings until the first of the year.

"MCSO continues to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of both staff and residents," MCSO Public Information Manager Janet Parker said.

Sheriff McFadden told WCNC Charlotte the violence inside the detention center is a reflection of the world outside. The sheriff said he started improving safety a year ago and has since mandated overtime, moved juveniles out of the jail to free up extra detention officers and brought in additional employees from the courthouse, road and reserves. He said he is also moving forward with significant de-escalation training and a peer support program.

Sheriff McFadden told WCNC Charlotte he takes responsibility for what takes place inside the jail, but said his officers and command staff bear some of the blame too, especially when failing to follow department policies.

In his statement that followed WCNC Charlotte's initial report, the sheriff addressed criticism from employees.

"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," the sheriff said. "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."

Contact Nate Morabito at nmorabito@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.