Broken elevators and radio “dead zones” are threatening the safety of corrections officers in Lake County Jail, some guards say, trapping them when the elevators stall and in one case delaying help for an officer who was attacked by an inmate.
Jail officials responded that they have fixed the main elevator issue, are replacing the radio system and maintain a safe facility. Both sides agree the jail remains significantly understaffed even as they have to handle dangerous defendants.
The issues came to light this week when Teamsters Local 700 sent the Tribune a copy of a letter to Sheriff Mark Curran, complaining about unsafe conditions at the jail.
Chronic problems with radios and elevators pose a “substantial risk to the safety of the officers,” according to the letter by Cass Casper, senior staff attorney for the union local.
The letter includes nine meeting notes or officer emails reporting problems with the radios or elevators from November through the end of January. The officers’ names were blacked out from the letter.
In December, officials confirmed, 18 officers were stuck on an elevator for about 25 minutes and said they were unable to transmit by radio. In some instances, officers have had to be rescued by ladder from elevators stuck between floors, and one officer recently injured his shoulder getting out.
One officer wrote in an undated email that a co-worker had recently been attacked by an inmate in the jail but that no additional precautions were taken. The officer was grabbed by the throat and thrown to the floor and was taken to a hospital with neck and back problems, Casper said.
“During this attack our response time was severely delayed due to one of two elevators being nonoperational,” the officer wrote. “I believe the safety and security of the staff is being neglected because of this issue.”
Another officer wrote that in light of what happened to his co-worker, “we need to have our concerns addressed and corrected before someone gets more seriously injured or God forbid killed.”
In addition to fixing the radios, that officer suggested more training in self-defense, including use of Tasers and batons. Another officer complained that he had to use his cellphone because his radio was out.
Undersheriff Ray Rose and Chief David Wathen, who oversees the jail, said some of the problems were being overstated but that steps had been taken to address them. They said the issues have occurred intermittently.
After one elevator brake failed in November, it was replaced, and the other elevator brake was replaced recently as a precaution, though both elevators were out of service for several days during repairs, they said.
The county also authorized spending more than $7 million to buy into a more robust Motorola STARCOM21 radio system, Rose said. Equipment is being installed, and the system is expected to be running by April.