WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter released details on Thursday afternoon surrounding a major security breach at the jail.
Sheriff Easter said on Sunday, July 17, 2022, four inmates in a pod removed a pipe that was connected to a sink in that day area and used it to create a hole in one of the jail windows. The hole was about the size of a fist, said Easter.
He said the inmates lowered a sheet down through the window and used the jail’s phone system to coordinate with a person outside the jail to bring in cell phones and marijuana. The items were put into the sheet and brought back up to the cell.
“We had an inmate, later than day, came down and informed the sergeant of what had occurred because he was alarmed by it, and he was also concerned about his own safety,” Easter said.
Once the sheriff’s office was informed about the drop, deputies went to the cell, found the hole and addressed some of the inmates that created the hole. The cell was then locked so that nothing else could be brought in. Easter said the sheriff’s office learned of three other drops that were set to take place. One included bringing a handgun being brought into the facility.
Through further investigation, Easter said deputies learned that almost 20 shanks have been produced inside the jail over the last 2-3 weeks. He said the breach and weapons are linked to an incident that occurred last week at Lansing Correctional Facility. The Kansas Department of Corrections fights and a semi-riot involving a particular gang. The two leaders had once been housed at the Sedgwick County Detention Facility.
“The individuals that had done this are also associated with that gang. And, it was going to be a similar type issue, where they were going to fight other inmates, riot and attack us,” said Easter.
The sheriff said that while investigating the July 17 incident, it was learned that the on-duty deputy assigned to the pod had observed the inmates break the window and bring in the contraband.
“And he did not stop it whatsoever nor did he inform anybody during the time of the incident,” said Easter. “And, he did not give the whole story of what occurred when he was asked about it.”
The sheriff’s office arrested and booked detention deputy Dustin Barnett, 22, on charges of official misconduct, conspiracy to traffic contraband, and trafficking contraband into the facility. He had been employed with the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office for six months and was terminated upon arrest. Easter would not say whether Burnett had any connection to the inmates who conducted the breach.
Easter said because of the breach, a plan was put together, and on Wednesday, 169 sheriff’s deputies, both commissioned and detention, searched the entire Sedgwick County Detention facility. He said deputies started the search at 6 p.m., and it took about six hours to complete. Deputies located a handcuff key wrapped in tape, K-2, two shanks and additional metal items that can be made into shanks. They also located fentanyl pills and a butane lighter.
Easter said in the last 2-3 weeks, at least four other shanks have been seized. He described them as being made out of metal and meant to cause significant harm.
“These are not plastic tools that we’re seizing like we’ve seen in the past, or sharpened plastic spoons, or any other type of plastic products. These are actually metal stripe plates that are being forced off of our doors and then shaped into shanks. Some of which could produce extremely serious puncture wounds. Others that can produce serious slashing-type wounds,” said Easter.
While deputies were conducting the investigation into the security breach, Easter said they were notified that fake Percocet pills containing fentanyl had been introduced into Pod 16 on the north side of the building. While deputies searched the south side of the building where the security breach occurred, cameras were being used to monitor the Pod 16 until a team was freed to search the area.
While monitoring the cameras, Easter said they observed an inmate lying on the ground face up inside the gym. Another inmate started to perform CPR. A team immediately responded to Pod 16 and medical arrived within a minute, he said. The inmate was given four doses of Narcan. He responded after the last dose and was then taken to the hospital for observation. He was later returned to the facility
A full search of Pod 16 was conducted and fentanyl pills were seized from the area confirming the information that the sheriff’s office had received.
Easter said the inmates involved in the breach will be separated, put into different pods and locked down due to the severity of what happened.
“These four individuals currently serving DD, a disciplinary action that we take. After that, there will be two of them that will be on a different type of watch, which means that they’re housed in a separate area from everybody else, other than people like them that have done these types of things. And, they are in their cells for 22-23 hours a day,” said Easter.
He said more fencing with Concertina wire will be placed around certain areas where the windows are exposed. Easter said there are future plans to bring in cell phone jammers and install metal blinds on the outside of all of the windows.
The issues come as the jail continues to struggle with staffing. Earlier this week, Sheriff Easter updated county commissioners on the situation saying that of the nearly 230 detention deputy positions, about half are open.
Easter said on safety and security, at full staffing, the ratio is 30 inmates for one deputy. Currently, depending on the shift, that number goes to 69 to 75 inmates per deputy. He said they’ve emptied out one pod, which frees up an extra deputy, and they hope to empty out a second pod.
Easter said the sheriff’s office has increased also recruitment efforts. The current starting pay is 19.34 an hour, comparable with some neighboring counties and higher than comparable counties in Oklahoma.
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