Sunday, January 04, 2009

Montague jail flooded with contraband, closed after FBI raid

Yikes! And we thought there was a contraband problem on Texas' death row!

AP reports that in Montague County, the brand spanking new Sheriff's first official act was to move out all the inmates and close down the county jail in the wake of an FBI raid and apparent, rampant misconduct under his predecessor:
A jail in northern Texas has been closed and its nearly 60 inmates transferred as authorities investigate what they call dangerous conditions for jailers and those behind bars — including cells that locked from the inside or contained recliners. Five inmates had already been moved from the Montague County jail to one in a nearby county this month after an FBI raid, said Jack McGaughey, district attorney for Montague, Clay and Archer counties.

McGaughey declined to say what prompted the investigation, also being conducted by the Texas Rangers. But he said authorities found contraband in the jail. New Sheriff Paul Cunningham moved the inmates to the Wise County jail on Thursday a few hours after he was sworn in.

McGaughey said some surveillance cameras' cords had been disconnected; recliners were in cells; some bathrooms and cells could be locked from the inside; and inmates had made partitions out of paper towels to block jailers' views inside their cells. One alarming discovery was a type of rack made of nails, he said. ...

Some inmates had apparently used extension cords to lock deputies out, and unidentified pills were strewn about other jail cells, Dallas-Fort Worth television station WFAA reported.
Recliners?! Surely that requires ongoing complicity by virtually everybody at the jail - from the folks checking the entrances to all the guards and supervisors. That's not an item like a cell phone that's getting hidden when the guards walk by.

One wonders how long this has been going on and why the Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors didn't catch it.

One also wonders precisely what inmates were doing, and for whom, in return for these kinds of extras? Clearly, the FBI is wondering the same thing.

MORE: From the Bowie News.


Anonymous said...

"Recliners?! Surely that requires ongoing complicity by virtually everybody at the jail - from the folks checking the entrances to all the guards and supervisors."

Virtually everybody? What an assumption on your part. Have you even considered that someone on staff may have reported these acts to the FBI and the Rangers?

"One wonders how long this has been going on and why the Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspectors didn't catch it."

I don’t know if you in fact do any investigating reporting, but perhaps you already know about the documented escape history and other problems that have plagued this jail for years.

Perhaps you should make an Open Records request for the last jail inspection for this facility and specifically when it was and how that date relates to this recent event.

As I wrote on one of your recent posts about TCJS, the problem is anyone can pass jail inspection when the visits are announced. You receive a nice little certificate proclaiming your facility was found to be in compliance. Then when TCJS leaves, it’s back to doing things the other way for the remaining 364days.

From your 12/19/08 blog Staffing that function at TCJS could have a big impact on local jail overcrowding and help ensure that lessons learned in one jurisdiction are communicated to jailers in other counties. IMO, the other big need is for greater oversight by TCJS of medical and mental health-related jail functions, both as part of the inspection process and providing technical assistance to improve these functions.

How is TCJS going to get the word out on “lessons learned” on this one, especially when some of these acts are crimes? TCJS has no punitive authority and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

And it looks like the FBI and Rangers are the ones to do public integrity investigations and we did not have to wait for some idiotic legislation for them to do so in this case.

In closing, we’ve heard no follow-up from TCJS reference to the generators failing during Hurricane IKE. And specifically, did they receive a notice of non-compliance? How will TCJS know if the generators will work under these weather conditions, wait for another hurricane?

Anonymous said...

Never mind about the Open Records request, this is from the Bowie News On-line. The last inspection was in October and the jail did not pass. I wonder what areas they were non-compliant?

See what I mean! Now what about TCJS? You think all this started after or before the inspection?

According to the media report, TCJS recommended to the new sheriff he should close the jail. This is hilarious! Why was it not closed after it failed inspection?

Sheriff Cunningham took the press through the jail Thursday afternoon to show some of the violations that prompted him to close the jail and transfer the prisoners. He added the jail commission has indicated the county could have up to 60 days to get the jail ready for inspection. The county jail failed its October inspection.

Sheriff Paul Cunningham said he and his staff consulted with the Texas Jail Commission and other sheriff’s offices in the area, and everyone agree closure was the best option.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Re: "What an assumption."

My assumption is that whoever blew the whistle was an outlier and most people working in the jail day to day would have had to be complicit for that to be ongoing. How else do you get a recliner through the door, much less several, and not have them confiscated as contraband long before now?

I didn't see the Bowie News clip until after I posted this and I added the link precisely because it gave details about the questions I raised. I can't report information I haven't seen yet.

Your two comments here seem to contain conflicting arguments. Apparently you CAN'T easily pass an announced TCJS inspection if Montague didn't pass. We agree their inspections need more teeth and for the need to focus on health and MH issues.

But on Montague, don't kill the messenger. I'm not the one that let all this go on.

Anonymous said...

Unlike cigarettes and cell phones, a recliner is not contraband under state statute. It could be contraband if not allowed by local jail rules, but even so, the recliner would be an administrative violation, not criminal.

Anonymous said...

Lot of people enter, leave or visit jails in a year so it is possible the complaint was made by a former inmate or a defense attorney.

Anonymous said...


I apologize if you felt I was killing the messenger, you just seem to show a partiality for TCJS and seem to always cast law enforcement into one lot.

I do hope you or someone, (please help us and not the lege) will look into the actions of TCJS and specifically why it took two months after the October inspection to move these inmates.

While I still see TCJS as just another bureaucratic organization with little or no enforcement authority that needs to be done away with, it is time for a change in faces at TCJS.

SB said...

It sounds like my kind of jail. I would certainly ask for a room with a recliner.
Few people travel to Montague so they try to impress and make them feel comfortable. Recycling old recliners rather than tossing them out beside the road would be the environmentally friendly thing to do.
As a taxpayer on an unimproved spot of ground I will insist on accountability for the $35 I send every year.
I know this is serious but I would like to hear a Jeff Foxworthy version.

Anonymous said...

That rack made of nails really horrifies me.

FleaStiff said...

If you have to do short-time sentences in Los Angeles county a good lawyer will arrange for you to pay a fee to do your time in one of the Beach City jails rather than the zoo that is the County Jail. Those fees add up!
I would think that somewhere someone was not sharing in the fees earned for the Recliner Jail, so the raid ensued.

Anonymous said...

The Commission on Jail Standards as an agency is pretty much damned if they do, damned if they don't. On one hand you have those that want them to have more teeth, but on the other hand, you have those that complain that it is an unfunded mandate that undermines local control.

For example, the last time Chairman Sylvester Turner tried to give the agency more teeth, the whole contingent of Dallas legislators opposed it because running a crappy jail (even investigated by the feds) is more important than running a safe and humane jail, wouldn't just be safe for the inmates, but the staff as well. Why these goon politicians cover for an incompetent sheriff that couldn't even pass her basic TCLEOSE exam is beyond comprehension.

Anonymous said...

Ok, upon talking to 2 DPS folks(I will decline to identify..they're nice guys) and one judge and one surrounding town officer from their PD(all together on one night as they discussed the situation)..I was told an inmate had become pregnant during her incarceration big "OOPS!" and that drug trafficing was pretty much rampant throughout. All knew about it, no one did anything about it, not to mention all the other "favors" being done to make these guys just as comfortable as possible. It's my home county, and I'm not imbarassed they finally did something, i'm imbarassed it took so long..we been screaming out "law" out here was a cartel(though I think it will get swept under the rug like the deal with Chris Hamilton did when he burned all the files on his way out-and I think this will be made into a pitch for the new sheriff to get a raise..concidering the constable's pay was actually decreased this last year because the old sheriff threw such a fit that he was making the same as he was-so instead of giving him a raise, they lowered the pay of the constable...who was rightly fit to be tied) Do I dare even imagine that this is going to result in anything like a REAL working sheriffs' dept. I don't really have any hope in that..they will become compliant with the state on the facility, the rest will be forgotten..we'll use it as an example next time they get caught doing something just like it. Amazing how when you go over there and ask a simple question "how would one go about getting a copy of a mug shot?" I got sent from the sheriff, to the deputee sheriff, to the captain, to the DA, to the county attorney, and I KID YOU NOT no one could tell me anything but to go ask someone I had already asked that had sent me to one knows's gotten so bad that I feel like I'm going to ask what someone's name is and they're going to tell me to go ask someone else, they don't know. Talk about no witnesses...YUP..this is gonna get swept under the rug..and denied. Deny, deny, deny, no one knows anything, no one saw anything, no one heard anything. They'll also make sure to not ask anyone who might actually speak the truth or knows the truth.