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Hernando County Sheriff's Office encounters serious problems early in takeover of jail

BROOKSVILLE — Two weeks into being Hernando County's jailer, Sheriff Richard Nugent and his staff have had to face some of the most serious challenges that come with running a corrections facility.

Already the jail has seen the death of an inmate, the accidental release of a prisoner, an attempted suicide and the termination of a corrections officer for sexual harassment.

Still, Maj. Michael Page, the jail's administrator, is upbeat in his view of how the transition has taken place. Dealing with such issues is just a part of the job, said Page, who has made a career of running and inspecting jails and prisons.

"In one week I'll have five bad things happen and then, for six months, nothing noteworthy,'' he said.

Page defended the staff's actions in all of the cases but that of the accidental release.

Jill Rodgers of Spring Hill was arrested on Tuesday on charges of fraudulent use of a credit card and criminal use of personal identification as well for an outstanding warrant. The jail's booking staff released her after she posted two bonds because they did not realize there was one remaining bond.

Rodgers left the jail at 9:39 p.m. Tuesday. Soon after, the jail staff realized their error and Rodgers was picked back up at her home by a road deputy without incident, Page said. She was booked back into the jail at 1:51 a.m. on Wednesday.

While there were no problems caused by the release, Page said that since it was "our first faux pax" he took the opportunity to address jail staff about the importance of the details.

"We have got to pay attention to detail. This is the wrong business to be in to not pay attention to detail,'' Page said.

The firm directive generated some discussion on a local law enforcement blog and Page said that if the talk was perceived to be a "butt-chewing,'' he was okay with that characterization.

When Corrections Corporation of America operated the jail, there was a period when several prisoners were released by mistake. The county fined the firm $20,000 a piece back then, but the sheriff's current agreement with the county does not include fines.

On Monday the jail staff responded to a 37-year-old inmate who was having seizures. Page said that he had medical staff on hand quickly and that they followed all the necessary protocols, but the inmate, Edward J. Thomas of Dade City, was pronounced dead at Brooksville Regional Hospital.

"That was really tragic,'' Page said. "There was no indication of any kind of issue, no foul play, no altercation.''

Page is awaiting a report from the medical examiner on the death.

Last week another inmate attempted suicide by trying to drown himself in the toilet in his cell in the medical unit. Page said that inmate has been watched closely and has met with a doctor.

Page also has had to dismiss one of his newly hired detention deputies, Sgt. Guy Prevatt. The deputy was accused of harassing a female civilian at the jail. "He wasn't a good fit,'' Page said.

He noted that having just 80 days to interview, background check and hire 130 employees, if Prevatt is the only hire who does not work out, "that's good for the law of averages,'' he said.

Page said "these things run in bunches'' and that whatever issues arise at the facility, he will use the experience "to fix what we didn't have right in the first place.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando County Sheriff's Office encounters serious problems early in takeover of jail 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 5:48pm]
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