Rogers investigates sheriff's office over unwell prisoners and who's responsible
BERRYVILLE -- Carroll County Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers is apparently investigating the Carroll County Sheriiff's Office after another dispute between county jailers and local police over admitting a prisoner who needed immediate medical care.
A few weeks ago, a Berryville police officer arrested what Rogers called a Level 3 sex offender and escorted him to the Carroll Count Sheriff's Office for booking.
Before departing the subject's place of residence where he was arrested, the officer noticed the man had an oxygen supply tank. When asked whether he needed to take it with him to jail, the offender said no, explained Sheriff Bob Grudek.
The police officer did not bring the oxygen. While exiting the police officer's vehicle at the jail, the offender told authorities he was unable to breathe. So Grudek told the officer that the offender needed to be checked out by a medical professional before the jail would accept and book him.
The Berryville police officer then removed the prisoner's restraints and left him, before he was booked, at the jail, Grudek said. Jailers called for an ambulance to get the prisoner immediate medical care at the Emergency Room.
"He abandoned his prisoner, then EMS arrived and said they had to get him to the hospital or otherwise he was going to pass out on us," Grudek told CCN earlier this week.
After the officer left, his supervisor called the sheriff's office and then Rogers also called the sheriff; both callers were "firm" in their words about whose responsibility it is to retrieve the prisoner from the hospital.
"So I called and said ... if the hospital releases him and (Berryville police) bring him back, we can go through the booking process," Grudek explained later. "And they ended up doing it, and I thought the whole thing was over."
But the next day, the incident escalated further when Grudek's office received subpoenas for the jailers who were involved; the jailers were interviewed by Rogers and his staff at the Prosecuting Attorney's Office this week, along with two police officers from Berryville.
Both Rogers and the Berryville police declined to comment on the situation because they said it is an open investigation.
But the dilemma over who's really in charge of accepting prisoners and getting the sick ones medical care first is not new.
"State law says that a sheriff cannot refuse a prisoner unless there an overpopulation problem in the jail," Grudek said. "But when you are dealing with federal law it makes it clear that . . . it is the responsibility of the arresting officer to get that person medical attention if they need it before they are incarcerated."
Carroll County News previously reported that local police chiefs were at an impasse with the sheriff over the issue of whether he has authority to turn away prisoners from being booked into the jail when they need immediate medical care.
While the chiefs say the sheriff has violated state law by refusing lawfully arrested inmates, Grudek maintains he is safeguarding prisoners' constitutional rights -- and protecting Carroll County taxpayers from costly litigation.
Both Green Forest Police Chief John Bailey and Berryville Police Chief Dave Muniz told CCN earlier this year that jailers had refused to accept their prisoners a handful of times during the past 12 months.
In each instance, the jailers have cited a sheriff's policy requiring any prisoner with an "acute medical condition" to be refused unless the arresting officer has obtained a medical release from a licensed professional.
In a Jan. 11 letter to Muniz, Jail Administrator Archie Rousey wrote, "the federal courts have recently come down hard on county jails that accept prisoners with little or no regard to the prisoner's health condition at the time.
"If their condition should worsen while in custody, or the prisoner should die in custody because they were not cleared by EMS or a doctor prior to being accepted in the jail, the liability would be enormous."
To give an idea of just how enormous that liability could be, the sheriff cited a recent settlement in which the city of Chicago agreed to pay $22.5 million to the family of a woman who died after being in police custody.
Kathleen Paine was 21 in 2006, when she suffered a bipolar breakdown at Chicago's Midway Airport and was arrested. She spent two nights in a city jail before being released into a high-crime neighborhood -- where she was lured into a public housing complex and sexually assaulted before falling from a seventh-story window.
She sustained massive and debilitating injuries in the fall, including brain trauma that left her bedridden.
"The jail is not a hospital," Grudek said, "It's not a mental institution, and when we accept someone with medical problems, we are also accepting the liability that comes along with it."
The chiefs, for their part, agreed wholeheartedly that those in need of medical attention should receive it.
"Our policy here is that human life takes precedence over an arrest," Bailey said.
He added that he had no quibble with the sheriff's policy as written -- only with how it had been enforced.
"It's a good policy," Bailey said, "but common sense needs to be applied to it."
Bailey and his fellow chiefs said Grudek and his jailers had gone overboard in their reluctance to accept prisoners in recent months.
Grudek, however, disputes this and has accused his fellow law enforcement officers of acting irresponsibly by attempting to book prisoners with clear medical problems -- claims which Bailey, likewise, disputes.
The chiefs also cite state law that prohibits the sheriff from refusing "any prisoner lawfully arrested ... except as necessary to limit prisoner population." This provision has been reaffirmed by the Attorney General repeatedly through the years.
Still, Grudek maintains he is not "refusing" anyone, but simply requiring prisoners who present a medical liability to be cleared by a professional before being hauled to the slammer.
Several cases of jailers declining to book unwell prisoners have been referred to Rogers' office for further investigation and clarification on what police and jailers should do, but Rogers never returned previous calls on the matter, so it is unclear whether he has been looking into the issue -- or whether this case was simply the straw that broke the camel's back.