A former corrections officer addressed Mobile County Commissioners Monday over concerns about what he says is a lack of adequate funding and training for employees at Mobile County Metro Jail.
Antonio Moore, who worked as a corrections officer at Metro Jail from 2017 to 2018, said he brought his concerns to the commissioners in an open meeting this week after previously sitting down with members of Sheriff Sam Cochran’s staff to discuss what he believes are lingering problems at the facility.
Specifically, he bemoaned the level of pay corrections officers receive and the lack of training required for officers dealing with mentally ill prisoners. He claims those have led to inmates being disrespected by officers or placed in dangerous situations like being handcuffed with their arms out front.
“All it takes is one inmate who just doesn’t care anymore to just take those handcuffs and choke a person,” he said. “As you know, corrections officers are underpaid for the job they do, and that makes it hard to attract new people, and the people who are there have frustrations or do things that are unsafe.”
Moore said he worked with some great corrections officers, but the environment in the jail — one where officers are significantly outnumbered by prisoners and where they can often find themselves working in areas that are short staffed — could lead to problems for officers who aren’t properly trained and equipped.
Addressing the commission, Moore disclosed he had also been previously written up for using his taser on an inmate he claims had repeatedly thrown things at him from inside of his cell. Moore said he only did so after he tried to file multiple disciplinary complaints against the inmate to no avail.
“My direct supervisor told me, ‘We give you the tools to make stuff like this not happen, maybe you should use those tools’… So, I shot him with my taser,” Moore said. “It was wrong and I knew it was wrong, but I was just doing what the supervisor told me to do. I bring that up because if they’re telling me to do something like that, what are they telling other people?”
Mobile County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) spokeswoman Lori Myles confirmed Moore was reprimanded for tasing an inmate, but said he ultimately left the department in good standing for unrelated reasons. Myles said Moore didn’t disclose to MCSO he was instructed to use his taser at the time, but said the agency is now investigating the situation retroactively.
As for the other concerns Moore raised, many of them are things jail officials like Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran and Warden Trey Oliver have raised themselves. As Lagniappe has reported, some of these are also issues commissioners are aware of and, in some cases, have allocated funding to address.
Last year, commissioners put close to $700,000 behind efforts to fix locks inmates were able to manipulate to open at the facility. Over the past six years, Mobile County has made up for stagnant wages lingering from the 2008 recession with incremental increases for its employees — typically 5 percent a year in 2.5 percent chunks. The county has also approved merit raises specifically for correctional officers and jail employees in the past to help retain and recruit employees for certain “hard-to-staff” jobs.
But while commissioners set the jail’s budget and pay its employees, they don’t have any say as to what goes on within its walls or what kind of training corrections officers receive.
Constitutionally, those responsibilities fall to Cochran and his staff. Commission President Jerry Carl told Moore he’d reiterate his concerns to Cochran, but said he’s hopeful federal police reform efforts being considered in Washington, D.C., will include more funding for training and retraining employees at the jail and in other areas of law enforcement.
Carl also seemed to defend Moore’s decision to use a taser against an inmate who tried to injure him.
“I expect any law enforcement officer to protect themselves. They’ve got families to get home to,” Carl said. “We don’t need to get off on a political rant here, but we’ve got to do a better job of protecting our officers. You’ve been there. You know what a bad place that is… You can just feel it when you walk in.”
In other news, commissioners also voted 2-1 to end a partnership with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) that has allowed the Mobile Association for the Blind to staff the snack bar in Mobile County’s courthouse for nearly four decades.
Carl voted with Commissioner Connie Hudson not to renew the contract after issues arose with the previous tenants and they did not renew. Both commissioners who supported the nonrenewal also said there had been issues with the snack bar keeping to its scheduled hours.
“The court police have mentioned that, when there are jury trials, people start arriving at 7 a.m. and the first question they ask is, ‘Where can I get a cup of coffee?’” Hudson said. “They have to send them down the street because we don’t have it available. The idea would be to try to get the space leased to somebody that would come in and operate — not anything in competition for lunch services with Chicken Salad Chick — but something like a coffee shop, maybe have smoothies, muffins or something.”
In a subsequent item, commissioners voted 2-1 to begin advertising requests for proposals to see what type of “coffee shop” model might work inside Government Plaza. Like the motion to nonrenew the ADRS contract, Commissioner Merceria Ludgood voted against seeking proposals for a coffee shop.
She didn’t speak to the merits of the idea, but seems more troubled over the county ending a long-standing relationship with ADRS with what appeared to be pretty short notice.
“I’d just like to say that when I started practicing [law] almost 40 years ago, the relationship with the Mobile Association for the Blind was in place,” Ludgood said. “I just thought that it was just a nice partnership that gave us an opportunity to create a job here for someone with a disability, and I hate to see it go.”
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