Sunday, May 27, 2018
Public safety

Probe of inmate's slaying uncovers processing errors at Pinellas jail

LARGO — An investigation into the slaying of one inmate by another last year uncovered processing errors at the Pinellas County Jail, prompting major changes at the facility, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Tuesday.

Among the findings:

• About 100 inmates were inaccurately classified at that time.

• Inmates who belonged in single cells were housed together in a pod.

• Some classification specialists had not been formally trained.

The problems went undetected for years, the sheriff said.

"It is troubling, it is disturbing that this was allowed to occur, and occurred during a long period of time," Gualtieri said. "We need to overhaul the processes and the systems and accountability."

The errors surfaced during the internal affairs investigation of three jail supervisors that was launched last year after Kelly Harding was killed by an inmate he should not have been housed with at the jail.

Harding, 48, was arrested in October 2012 on a burglary charge, a felony. But the following January he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of trespassing, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to serve one year at the jail. Harding was supposed to be relocated to live with other misdemeanor inmates. But days later, when the jail received the sentencing documents, Harding's status wasn't updated, the Sheriff's Office said.

Because of behavioral problems, Harding spent most of his time in a single cell until July 20, when he was moved to a pod for felony inmates under protective custody. That's where he met Scott Greenberg, who was awaiting trial in the asphyxiation death of his girlfriend. Greenberg settled into an empty bunk in Harding's cell and on the first night asphyxiated him with wet toilet paper, the Sheriff's Office said.

Greenberg was charged with first-degree murder in Harding's slaying and remains at the jail.

Gualtieri said Tuesday that Harding was one of about 100 inmates wrongly classified. For example, some felony inmates were housed with misdemeanor inmates, and vice versa.

The error continued to occur because jail employees believed that the court computer system automatically updated the jail information database if an inmate's charges, either misdemeanor or felony, changed. But the two systems don't communicate that kind of information, Gualtieri said.

The investigation also determined that the inmates housed in Harding's pod weren't supposed to be in a pod, an area with cells that open onto a common space. Inmates under protective custody are supposed to be held in single cells.

During a review of records after Harding's death, employees checked each inmate's status and found the ones who had been inaccurately classified. They have since been properly placed within the jail, the sheriff said.

Gualtieri said that when a new court records system is implemented this summer, it is expected to communicate with the jail database. Until then, employees will manually input custody changes.

Gualtieri's investigation also revealed inconsistent training of classification specialists who place inmates in the jail. The Sheriff's Office is creating a formal training program for them, he said.

Budget cuts that forced the Sheriff's Office to slash positions and space at the jail in recent years could be a factor in the ongoing errors, the sheriff said.

The problem "didn't happen overnight. It didn't happen within a matter of days, weeks, months," he said. "It was a long period of time."

Laura C. Morel can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or [email protected]

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