Sheriff's Office, city police at odds over jail medical costs

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

BERRYVILLE -- The Sheriff's Office and various city police departments around the county are at odds over medical cost for inmates arrested within city limits.

In the past, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office has covered expensive medical costs for inmates that were the city police departments' responsibility, but the CCSO is not seeking reimbursement, said Sheriff Bob Grudek.

City officials for Green Forest and Berryville, including mayors and police chiefs, contend that they have covered all medical expenses they are responsible for and do not mind covering the expenses, but the bills from the CCSO are rare and come infrequently.

Grudek has made it clear, through correspondence with the city officials, that after July 1 he intends to charge the city for the ACIC and dispatch services he currently provides for free. He also stated that after that date, he will take a harder stance on medical issues and require the city to cover the costs for city prisoners.

City officials have previously claimed that an unwritten agreement exist that prohibits the city from providing funds to cover medical expenses as well as feeding, housing and supervision costs, Grudek said. Several city officials have also said during Quorum Court meetings that the cost accrued by the CCSO should be paid for by the 0.5 percent sales tax raise that was voted on in 2000.

However, the county passed an Ordinance 93-15 which exempts the city from paying for the feeding, housing and supervision of prisoners, but specifically states all medical costs for city prisoners will be covered by the cities.

The ordinance was passed after the at-time mayors of Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs agreed to the terms. The agreements were turned into the Quorum Court and signed by Richard Deweese, Tim McKinney and Kathy Harrison, the mayors of the aforementioned cities, respectively.

The disagreement between the city and county law enforcement agencies lies in the definition of a city prisoner versus a county prisoner.

Anyone arrested within the city limits for a misdemeanor or charged with violating a city ordinance is a city prisoner, and anyone arrested within the city limits for any violation, felony, misdemeanor or other is a city prisoner as well until they are officially charged and sentenced in a court of law, Grudek said.

McKinney agrees with Grudek that misdemeanor and city ordinance violations make a detainee a city prisoner, but anyone arrested for a felony charge, no matter where, is a county prisoner, he said. The mayor's sentiments were the same as Berryville Police Chief Dave Muniz.

"I think [Grudek] is not correct there and the county takes the fines and fees, unless it is misdemeanors," Muniz said. "Once the person is arrested and delivered to the county jail, they are a county prisoner and all fees go to them."

Muniz went on to explain that the majority of what he defined as city prisoners can be released on their own recognizance if they require medical attention. That way the individual has to cover any medical costs, not the city or county. He also explained that the crimes associated with city prisoners are minor infractions, so it is not like there are letting a mass murderer go because he as a toothache, and furthermore, the individual is only released if they live locally and are deemed likely to return for their hearings.

The cost is not only in dollars, but manpower as well. If a law enforcement agency cannot release someone who needs to be hospitalized, then whichever agency is liable for the prisoner has to commit an officer to stand guard at the hospital to monitor the individual. Grudek said that this is a high cost to his already low numbers of deputies and Muniz said he had no intention of standing guard for the hospitalization of a city prisoner.

In any situation, a prisoner is first given the option to post bond and be released before the city or county is responsible for medical treatment.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's opinion is that a city is liable to the county for a prisoner arrested by a city officer on felony charges until the prisoner is formally charged, according to Opinion No. 2009-43. He also suggested that neither the sheriff nor a representative of the sheriff can refuse to house a prisoner, unless it is necessary to limit prisoner population to comply with the state or U.S. Constitution. In this opinion, he also addressed who is responsible for guarding the prisoner.

"It is my opinion that once the sheriff or his representative accepts custody of a prisoner," McDaniel wrote, "The county is responsible for transporting that prisoner to court appearances and providing security if that prisoner requires hospitalization."

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