Editorial: Incompetency root of jail’s ongoing mess

Two Curry County commissioners want to ask voters — again — for money to build a new jail. The question would appear on November's general election ballot.

If any other souls on Earth thought that was a good idea, their unreal expectations surely died Thursday when the latest example of jail staff incompetence was brought to light.

This time, an inmate who witnessed his brother's shooting death was placed in the same pod of cells as his brother's accused killer.

Guess what? A fight broke out.

Twenty minutes later, detention officers finally discovered Louis Guerra and Jaime Perez didn't much like each other when they had to haul Perez to the hospital.

Fifteen hours after that, somebody finally told the district attorney and sheriff's investigators what happened.

Fortunately, no one was critically injured or killed. Unfortunately, Curry County taxpayers can expect another in the seemingly endless parade of lawsuits caused by the incompetence of jail leaders and/or staff. At last count, more than a dozen jail-related lawsuits have been settled for about $1 million since 2005.

And we thought this was supposed to be about the time the public could begin to regain its confidence that jail safety problems had finally ended.

A new administrator, Gerry Billy, was hired in February. And commissioners declared they would oversee the administrator themselves, removing the county manager from the equation.

Surprise! The problems, that first gained national attention in 2008 when eight violent inmates escaped, have not been resolved.

A month ago, Billy said the jail was short 19 of its 78 budgeted employees and overtime was running about $3,200 a week. In May we learned the health department was threatening to close the jail's kitchen for unsafe conditions.

And now this new moment of lunacy.

"Sometimes you don't know how these guys are connected," Commission Chairman Wendell Bostwick tried to explain, since Billy would not.

What a ridiculous excuse. The jail staff members must make it their business to know who's in their jail, how they got there, and who should be kept a safe distance and multiple walls away from other prisoners.

OK, sometimes personal conflicts are kept hidden from outsiders. But how could anyone associated with Curry County Detention Center not know the name Perez?

Carlos Perez was a 10-year-old Clovis boy who was shot to death in 2005 while sleeping in his bed. One of his killers was among the eight who escaped, and he's not been found.

Daniel Perez was a brother to Carlos. Daniel was shot to death last year in front of another brother, Jaime Perez.

The Perez family tragedies are well known, especially in law enforcement.

But we also learned on Friday that Perez family members and the district attorney's office specifically asked jail staff to keep Jaime Perez away from Guerra. That's why, Perez' attorney said, Perez was first kept in an isolation cell then shipped to the jail in Farwell.

Still, after Jaime Perez was returned to the Clovis jail on Wednesday after a court appearance, he was housed next to his brother's accused killer.

"Sometimes you don't know how these guys are connected?"

If that's what happened, it's beyond inexcusable.

This latest incident proves once more that the jail leaders and staff and the county commissioners are not qualified to run this jail.

Twice since November 2010, voters have rejected commissioners' requests to build a new jail. Those voters' voices effectively tell them the building is not the problem — the people running the place are the problem.

Curry County's current commissioners should stop ignoring reality. Don't ask us again for money to replace this jail until you fix the staffing ills. Or, perhaps they should look to house Curry County prisoners in regional jails where officials know what they're doing.

Please.

Before somebody else gets hurt.

Speak Your Mind

*