Does a deputy jailer have the right to prevent a police officer from leaving the detention center in an attempt to force the officer to take a prisoner to the hospital to get him medically cleared?
That is the central issue involving a Whitley County deputy jailer, who is facing an unlawful imprisonment charge following an incident at the detention center Saturday evening involving a sheriff’s deputy.
Whitley County Sheriff Colan Harrell said that no matter what the reason, the deputy jailer had no authority to do what he did.
The deputy jailer is still on duty and Jailer Ken Mobley contends that his shift supervisor did nothing wrong.
Saturday evening Sheriff’s Deputy Cody Harrell served Deputy Jailer Donald L. McElroy, 32, of Williamsburg, with a criminal summons charging him with second-degree unlawful imprisonment.
McElroy is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 10 in Whitley District Court.
Earlier that evening between about 8 – 9:30 p.m., Deputy Harrell took three prisoners, Rosa M. Thomas, 31, Cody E. Golden, 29, and Johnny Satterfield to the Whitley County Detention Center on public intoxication charges.
"He took three prisoners to the jail. When he wanted to leave, they did not open the door upon request," said Sheriff Harrell, who is the father of Cody Harrell.
Sheriff Harrell said that the deputy was detained for at least five minutes, but he said the amount of time is irrelevant.
"How long is not the issue. It was a short period of time," Sheriff Harrell said. "He did say, ‘I want out.’ At that point you open the doors. Period, unless there is some emergency going on in there to prevent the jailer from doing his duty of opening the jail, which there wasn’t. This is why he was charged."
According to the criminal complaint, which was signed by District Judge Cathy Prewitt, McElroy allegedly interfered with Deputy Harrell’s liberty by restricting him from his movement.
"After Deputy Harrell gave the detention copy to the deputy jailer, Deputy Harrell went to the door to exit," according to the summons. "The defendant refused to allow Deputy Harrell to leave after several requests.
"The defendant informed Deputy Harrell he was not leaving the jail without the prisoner. Deputy Harrell’s freedom to leave the detention facility was restricted by the defendant unlawfully restraining him without the consent of Deputy Harrell."
Sheriff Harrell said he didn’t ask what the deputy jailer’s rationale was for not opening the door, and that it is irrelevant.
"When an officer or any other individual says, ‘I want out,’ you let them out that is it. There is not a good reason unless there is an emergency going on in the jail," Sheriff Harrell said.
After Deputy Harrell left the jail, he called his immediate supervisor, Sgt. Shawn Jackson, to report the incident, and later met with Jackson to discuss the incident.
Soon thereafter, Sheriff Harrell and Chief Deputy K.Y. Fuson were both contacted. Later Prewitt was contacted, and asked to issue a criminal summons, which she did, Sheriff Harrell said.
McElroy was cited about two hours after the incident. Harrell and six other officers went to the jail to serve the summons.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said that a few of his officers were asked to go with deputies to the jail to serve the summons Saturday night on McElroy. Their capacity was only to assist or to be there as witnesses.
Sheriff Harrell noted situations like this are something not taught in the police academy.
"As to Donald McElroy, he did what I told him and what he has been trained to do," Mobley said. "My supervisor never broke any law. He operated under the Whitley County Detention Center’s guidelines, rules and policies and will continue operating under those policies and procedures because the Department of Corrections said I was right in doing so. That is my position on the whole thing."
When contacted about the matter Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections declined to address the matter noting, "it’s not our issue."
Mobley said KRS 71.040 states that at the time of booking, the jailer shall receive and keep in the jail all persons who are lawfully committed there until they are lawfully discharged, unless the person is in need of emergency medical attention, in which case the arresting officer shall obtain medical attention for the person prior to delivery to the jail.
Mobley said Satterfield was so intoxicated that he couldn’t keep his eyes open, answer medical questions or stand up. He slumped against the wall and slid down it twice.
McElroy refused to accept the prisoner at that point, told Deputy Harrell he would have to take him to the hospital to get him cleared medically, and then bring him back, Mobley said.
"Apparently that wasn’t good enough for them so they started to leave. We weren’t going to let them leave without taking a prisoner with them," Mobley said.
"I think getting a summons on a officer for doing his job is silly," Mobley said. "He never broke any law. He was doing what he was told. If it is done again tomorrow, he will do the same thing. I feel like my supervisor did exactly what he has been trained to do, and I am proud of him. I stand by him 100 percent."
Mobley said that McElroy is still on duty because he hasn’t broken any laws.
"If the same things comes up tomorrow, tonight or the next 20 minutes, we will handle it the same way because that is policy. You can’t lock up a man that can’t even talk or answer questions or can’t stand on his feet," Mobley said.
"I have no problem locking anybody up when they meet medical guidelines. This guy is clearly on the tape too intoxicated to be incarcerated at that time," Mobley said referencing jail security camera footage that caught the incident.
Mobley said that he disagrees with the sheriff’s contention that he can’t keep prevent an officer from leaving the jail.
"Colan’s wrong. I run this jail," Mobley said. "When an officer comes in here, they don’t leave until they get their paperwork done or they get what they come here to do done. When the boy was refused, they were told to take him with them, and they refused to do so.
"They went out in the Sally Port, saw they weren’t going to get to leave and leave their drunk laying in there that we weren’t going to book in. They came back in, got the boy, the Sally Port opens and out they went."
Sheriff Harrell disagrees with Mobley’s contention that the deputy jailer did nothing wrong.
"He has no right to restrict the actions of anyone unless they are prisoners," Sheriff Harrell said. "My deputy was not a prisoner. If he is saying he’s acting under the color of law, he’s not. If he will show me a statute saying a deputy jailer has the right to restrict the movement of anyone, who is not a prisoner, that is what I want to see."
Harrell also disagrees with Mobley’s contention that Satterfield was too intoxicated to be booked at the jail.
"The deputy was told by his supervisor to take those prisoners up there. There was nothing wrong with the prisoners when he took them there. According to the Department of Corrections, if you can walk and talk, you’re OK. This is what happened."
Deputy leaves jail
Mobley said that from what he understands, Deputy Harrell called his supervisor, Shawn Jackson after McElroy refused to let him leave, and Jackson then contacted a judge.
Mobley said that his understanding is the judge told Jackson to turn over Satterfield to the custody of a family member.
Jail officials finally opened the doors to the Sally Port where Harrell’s cruiser was parked after Satterfield was loaded back into the vehicle.
After the jail doors were opened, Mobley said Harrell pulled his cruiser out, then opened the back door and let Satterfield out of the cruiser.
"They came through the Sally Port door, stopped, shoved the inmate out and left," Mobley said. "He was just basically left wondering the parking lot."
At one point Satterfield walked back into the Sally Port, then wondered back outside. After a few minutes, deputy jailers went back outside to try and find Satterfield, but by that point he had already walked off, Mobley said.
Mobley said that he later talked with Satterfield’s father, who informed him Satterfield made it down to a church along Ky. 92, and had apparently gotten a ride home from there.
Prewitt, who was the district court judge that was on call Saturday night, confirmed that Jackson contacted her asking for suggestions about what to do with a prisoner, whom the jail was refusing to accept.
Given the charge, Prewitt suggested citing the man to court and finding an appropriate friend or family member to release him too so he would be safe.
She said this wasn’t an order or bond conditions because Jackson only called her asking for suggestions on what to do with the suspect.
Harrell said Satterfield was given a court date and released.