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Cameras monitor county jail areas

Corrections officers and inmates in the booking and holding areas of the Pinellas County Jail now are constantly monitored by newly installed video cameras.

Incidents in those areas have led to a number of allegations and complaints regarding corrections officers and treatment of people at the jail. In addition, any person transferred or taken to the jail as a new inmate must pass through booking and holding areas.

"We've had a couple of incidents back-to-back that led to re-examination of policies and monitoring techniques," said Marianne Pasha, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "This is an additional method of observation. We can monitor our operation and record any incidents involving inmates."

Two video cameras were installed around the first of February, and a third one is scheduled to be installed. The cameras, tapes, monitors and other equipment cost about $7,000, she said.

If an incident occurs in the booking or holding areas of the jail, the videotapes will be used during a review along with written reports. Inmates will not be videotaped during searches if they area required to remove all or some of their clothing.

But investigators already are reviewing videotapes involving the search of an inmate Feb. 3 who was found later with a gun in his cell, Pasha said. The gun was not discovered when the man was given a "pat down" search at the booking area and in the field when he was arrested.

The investigation of at least two other incidents at the jail last year may have benefited from such videotapes.

John Thomas Brundage, 52, of Largo, died in his medical wing cell Sept. 9. He had been arrested after a violent struggle with deputies, taken to Largo Medical Center and then to the jail.

He had been vomiting and complaining of abdominal pain at the jail before he died. An autopsy showed Brundage died from a tear in his intestine but determined he may not have died if he had received proper medical treatment at the jail. Brundage's death is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The other investigation involved Robert Floyd, who alleged he was beaten by corrections officers in a booking cell after his arrest Sept. 13. Investigators concluded an officer struck Floyd in the face, but the force was necessary because Floyd was struggling violently and was a threat to officers.

The video cameras are the first phase of a plan to monitor, by camera, emergencies that occur at the jail, Pasha said. Research began a year ago into the concept of training some corrections officers on each shift to use hand-held video cameras for incidents such as removing uncooperative inmates from cells.

"Using video cameras in jails is not unusual," Pasha said. "This is just the first time we have done it."