21 people charged in flooding of cell block

By Abby Morris

Star Staff

   Charges of felony vandalism were issued to 21 inmates of the Carter County jail after inmates in Cell Block D caused the block to flood and water spilled down into the Carter County Sheriff's Department offices Wednesday afternoon.
   According to Sheriff John Henson, inmates from Block D blocked toilet drains, causing the water to overflow. "Due to the flooding, water ran down into the records office and the dispatch room and considerable damage was done," he said. "To charge someone with felony vandalism, it has to be over $1,000 in damage, and I can see right now that at least that much damage has been done."
   Henson stated that an exact figure on the damage caused to the jail facility as well as the Sheriff's Department's office was not available Wednesday evening because the clean up was still in progress. However, he could tell that enough damage was done to warrant the felony charge.
   "There's that much damage done to the building alone with all that water," he said. "Every time they flood the building it damages the building, the wiring, and the plumbing."
   All of the inmates housed in Cell Block D were charged in the incident. "You can't single out one or two people," Henson said. "You have no choice but to charge them all." He explained that even if the other inmates did not take part in the flooding, they were accessories to the crime by not alerting jailers to what was happening. "If I go out and commit a crime, and you know about it and don't report it, that makes you an accessory," Henson said.
   This is not the first time an incident like this has happened at the jail facility. "Flooding has always been a problem at this facility," Henson said. "As long as you have a jail over top of everything else, you will continue to have these kinds of problems."
   In addition to the felony charges inmates now face, their privileges were also revoked, and they must appear in court over the incident, according to Henson. "I hope the court deals strictly with them and makes them pay for what they've damaged," he said. "They need to make them pay for it and not make the tax payers pay for it because they have to pay for enough as it is."
   If incidents like this happen in the future, Henson said, they will be strictly dealt with, just as this situation was. "I'm tired of it and fed up with it and from here on out, if someone tears something up in this facility, ever which block it was, they're going to be charged with it," he said. "We've not had a whole lot of it this year, but they're starting it up again, and as the old saying goes, I'm going to put a stop to it before it starts. It's not going to continue to happen."
   Henson described the actions of the inmates as "childish" and said that the inmates use such behavior to express dissatisfaction about something that may have been said or a privilege they feel that they should have but are not allowed. "In my opinion, they had no excuse to do what they did. They have the same privileges as the other inmates and they need to realize that this is not the Holiday Inn," he said. "If they are unhappy, then they shouldn't do something to get put here. We didn't put them here; they put themselves here by violating the law."
   According to Henson, the construction of the jail is what leads to the flooding when inmates block toilet drains. "Our real problem here is that the jail is above everything else," he said. "When the building was built, there were no draining systems in the jail." That causes water to pool up in the floors and eventually leak down into the lower floor of the building which houses the Sheriff's Department, two courtrooms and the County Clerk's Office.
   Inmate-caused floods and vandalism are not crimes isolated to the Carter County Jail. "It's not only Carter County's problem all over Tennessee," Henson said. "A lot of other jails have better facilities than we do, but they still have problems."