Flooding video surfaces at Curry jail

Surveillance video of recent flooding inside the Curry County jail reflects images one commissioner calls distressing and a Clovis attorney says shows the county isn't in control of the facility.

Inmates are shown frolicking in standing water, running and then sliding along the flooded floor in a crest of water while detention officers appear to be doing nothing to stop it, according to Clovis attorney Jennifer Burrill. At one point, an inmate completing a watery slide gives a high-five to a detention officer in the pod of cells.

"That video shows that the county does not have control over that facility," said Burrill, who obtained it through a public records request.

Jail Administrator Gerry Billy said while he has not seen the video, he asked an officer at the jail to view it. Based on that officer's assessment, Billy said he is confident jail staff handled the situation correctly.

"Do I think it was out of control? We got it under control," Bill said. "Am I upset that it happened? Yes. But it is a jail and sometimes people do bizarre things."

The flooding was set off about 11:45 p.m. Sept. 9, when an inmate allegedly broke off two sprinkler heads from an overhead fire suppression system in Pod 1, according to reports compiled by jail staff and Curry County Sheriff's investigators. Jail staff was in the middle of a shakedown after receiving information that inmates were tattooing in a cell.

The video, about two hours long, shows inmates milling around in ankle-deep water, then engaging in about 15 minutes of running and sliding in the mess, according to Burrill. Later, an inmate is seen lighting a T-shirt on fire, she said, tossing it on the floor of the second tier of cells. Inmates from an adjacent cell are seen tossing other items that appear to be paper on the flaming T-shirt.

"I'm concerned about the length of time it took to address the flooding," Burrill said. "It's approximately two hours before it's cleaned. Then, the next morning, they were still wading inmates through standing water nine to 10 hours later."

Burrill said she requested the video because at 9 a.m. the next morning, she and her clients stood in water still on the floor in an attempt to perform video arraignments before District Court Judge Donna Mowrer. The arraignments had to be moved to Mowrer's courtroom because of the mess, said Burrill and another defense attorney, Sarah Field with Dan Lindsey's firm.

"Inmates," said Field, "were sitting on metal benches with their feet in the water. Jennifer and I were walking around in heels in this stuff."

Field said the standing water in the video arraignment area was choked with what appeared to be toilet paper and other bits of trash.

"It was kind of disgusting," Field said.

Burrill said she requested the video to preserve her clients' rights.

"I'm concerned because my clients are in there and many of them haven't been convicted of anything," Burrill said, noting the county has an obligation to protect inmates.

"It's unclear who is in control of that jail and that places all of the inmates at risk."

Commissioner Robert Sandoval, who saw the video briefly in Burrill's office Friday, said he wants to discuss it with Billy and the other four commissioners.

"I think I can say that I'm very distressed with what I saw," Sandoval said.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn said while he hasn't seen the video, he isn't pleased with recent events at the jail.

"I'm not satisfied with what I hear and what I see," Blackburn said. "I just expect better. I hear everything is going well and then I hear just the opposite. It just seems like there's no good news."

Billy said no one was injured in flooding and subsequent fire and an inmate was charged with misdemeanor criminal damage for allegedly breaking off the sprinkler heads.

"It's inevitable that things happen," said Billy. "This was just one of those situations that has been repeated hundreds of times (at other jails) across the country.

"Am I hung up on this one? No," Billy said. "I've got bigger things to worry about."

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