Sheriff Susan Hutson’s start as sheriff is rocky. Prisoner deaths, a staffing shortage, closing criminal court, numerous stabbings, and a three-day prisoner rebellion define the first 100 days. So far, the Sheriff is laying all the blame on the previous administration. Hutson soundly defeated the legendary former Sheriff Marlin Gusman. But Hutson ran a reform campaign promising improved conditions and transparency. To say her start is rocky is a dramatic understatement. People died.
The Hutson jail seems chaotic and troubled. Two deaths occurred within days. Philip Soublet Jr died after suffering blunt force trauma. Not long after Soublet’s death, Chad Neyland died after he jumped from a balcony. Hutson campaigned vigorously and vociferously on providing a safe environment for all prisoners. These two deaths are shocking and saddening. Hutson blamed staffing shortages. But especially upsetting is that the deputy assigned to Soublet’s pod was just not in place during the fight that led to his death. Philip Soublet Jr. should be alive today.
In response to those deaths Hutson pulled deputies from their criminal court posts. Sheriff’s deputies provide security for all sections of court and the courthouse building. Her decision forced court to close and delayed trials and proceedings. Judges reacted angrily. Defendants got antsy. The Sheriff again blamed the lack of staff left by her predecessor.
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In early August at least four stabbings occurred in the jail. Three of the stabbed men went to the hospital with serious wounds. The fourth was treated at the jail. Hutson says that the violence we see in our community is showing up in the jail. And if jail is where we send our troublemakers that is to be expected. Also expected is jail is not the place where street violence escalates. Our jail must be humane. But we are dealing with people who have a history of settling disputes with violence. Our jail must be prepared to handle this. Care is a different word in this context.
Another significant incident was a full-fledged three-day rebellion by inmates. They took over their pod and had a list of demands. The demands are not unreasonable:
- A basketball
- New washer and dryer
- More books
- Getting to court n time
- A new TV
- And a full day of stretch and recreation time
Sheriff Hutson explained before the City Council criminal justice committee that the washer and dryer left by the previous administration are residential grade and not able to handle the volume of the jail setting. She also said she never got a request for a basketball. But the most important thing was the 14 and a half hours of free time was impossible because of staffing shortages.
Sheriff Hutson’s Start as Sheriff is Rocky
Most shocking is the fact that besides staffing shortages, Sheriff Hutson blames the building. This is significant because former Sheriff Gusman promised the new building would end all the violence inside the jail. But Hutson pointed out how door handles were removed, and deodorant cans used to block doors. She says the new building is inadequately built and is unsafe for deputies.
Two things about that. Is the new $375 million state of the art facility unsafe and poorly built? And is saying that really a good idea when you are trying to recruit more deputies to come and work in the building?
But as the saying goes, be careful what you ask for. Susan Hutson signed up for this. We need her to do a great job. There is much work to be done. And the time to stop blaming the previous administration is just around the corner.