An investigation into staff falsifying records of prisoner welfare checks at the Smith County Jail in Tyler, Texas, has led to the resignation of four guards and the demotion of one jail lieutenant to sergeant. Another guard and a sergeant are on paid administrative leave.
The documents that were falsified are written records of jailers checking to see that all of the prisoners are accounted for and not in need of medical attention or other aid. Smith County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) policy requires checks on general population cells every 45 minutes while suicide watch cells must be checked every 10 minutes. Some suicide watch cells require constant checks.
"These jail logs are also documentation, which we are require by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to maintain," said Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith. "Additionally, they are considered government documents, and entering false information into these documents constitutes a third-degree felony offense."
Sheriff Smith became aware of the falsified records in August 2014, when a jailer—who had been working at the jail only a few months—noticed that someone had entered his name for a check he had not made and reported the false entry. Sheriff Smith then contacted the Texas Rangers and asked them to investigate the falsified entry. The SCSO Office of Professional Responsibility ran a parallel investigation. Twenty employees were interviewed.
During the investigation, numerous SCSO employees admitted falsifying the jail log records and said this had been going on for at least seven years.
"It should have been caught before seven years," said former Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith. "It should have been caught during my administration, but the only way this particular thing could have been caught is to compare the jail logs with the actual video."
"This is not going to be his [current Sheriff Larry Smith's] last problem," said J.B. Smith, who added that these kinds of problems happen at jails throughout the state and are bound to happen again at the Smith County Jail sometime in the future.
A third-degree felony in Texas carries two to ten years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. However, jailers are almost never prosecuted for falsifying records—even when the injury or death of a prisoner is involved. Instead, they are allowed to quietly resign and that ends the investigation.
When Larry Smith was elected sheriff, he said, "The bar is being raised. I do demand integrity. The citizens of Smith County deserve for their law enforcement officers to be ethical and of high integrity and there will be accountability." It remains to be seen whether Sheriff Smith's accountability ideal includes sending former employees to prison.
Sources: kltv.com, dfw.cbslocal.com
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