Louisville Metro Corrections has requested that the FBI conduct a civil rights investigation into one of three recent inmate deaths, director Dwayne Clark told Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee on Wednesday.
Clark appeared before the committee after three inmates died within the span of a week at the jail, prompting widespread criticism and calls for action.
The deaths, which occurred between Nov. 29 and Dec. 4, are also being investigated by the LMPD and LMDC. Clark said that one of the deaths — that of a 48-year-old woman on Dec. 4 — was deemed a suicide. Clark mentioned that the other two inmates who died were known to have medical conditions.
He declined to answer a question about which death he had asked the FBI to investigate and said he would not “pass judgement” on LMDC employees until the investigations concluded.
“The police investigation and [the] LMDC investigation will determine whether the men and women at work did their job right. And I hope that they did,” he said. “If they did not perform their jobs right, we will take appropriate action, and the police may act as well.”
Daniel Johnson, president of FOP Lodge 77, which represents corrections employees, said staffing shortages at the jail have created a situation that is “completely unsafe.”
He said at the time of the apparent inmate suicide, there had been just two officers responsible for the 187 female inmates — and that one of those officers was working overtime.
“It is impossible to closely monitor 200 people with only two people on the floor,” he said.
Clark said that the inmate had been moved into a solitary cell after they had gotten into fights with other inmates. The director said she hanged herself from a vent in the ceiling with her jumpsuit.
Deaths like hers can potentially be avoidable, said Johnson, the FOP president.
“If we had 10 people working… that person might still be alive today. But we don’t, because we’re trying to save money by not paying people enough to get them to come into a job that’s not highly regarded,” he said.
Just after the meeting got underway, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced that the city had reached a tentative agreement with the corrections FOP to boost LMDC pay across the board by 8%. Under the agreement, starting pay for new corrections officers would immediately become $44,346.
“To continue addressing our No. 1 priority of public safety, our city needs a detention center that is properly staffed with well-trained Corrections officers,” Fischer said in a statement. “These steps will make these important jobs more attractive for career seekers.”
Also appearing before the Public Safety Committee on Wednesday was Kungu Njuguna, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky.
“Metro Corrections is overpopulated and understaffed. One of the best ways to solve that issue now and today is to lower that population,” he said.
To do that, he requested that LMPD stop arresting people for low level offenses, that failure-to-appear bench warrants stop being issued and that cash bonds be ended, except in cases where there is a “serious threat to the community.”
“Those are quick, easy ways to stop the inflow of people into our jails right now,” he said.
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