By Kelsey Givens
The Nye County Law Enforcement Association filed several new grievances recently with the sheriff’s office administration and county manager’s office alleging major safety issues with the operation of the new Nye County Detention Center, which opened late last month.
From not having a fire escape plan in place the day the facility opened to doors locking deputies in cells or opening on their own, NCLEA President David Boruchowitz, also a sheriff’s detective, said low staffing levels and not enough training before deputies and detention technicians took over are creating safety issues for both staff and inmates alike.
“Nothing has changed. We were understaffed and overworked in the old jail and nothing has changed with the new facility,” he said. “Almost daily I’m hearing from deputies and I can hear in their voices that they are stressed beyond belief. They’re doing a great job trying to make it the safest and best place they can under the circumstances.”
NCLEA renewed a grievance over what the union has said are unacceptable numbers of staff scheduled to each shift, a grievance which was previously defeated after the union was denied a restraining order by a local judge to keep the facility from opening.
The new grievance alleges that similarly to the old facility, there are times when only one deputy is working in the jail, handling everything from booking to housing needs.
“The issue is, let’s say it’s one deputy in housing and he’s doing meds, three guys come in with inmates to book. Now that deputy has to leave housing, go to booking and then go back to housing. It’s really a horrendous situation, and we asked if we could have even just two deputies to alleviate that back and forth. This is not acceptable, can we make two deputies work? One in house and one in booking would eliminate the back and forth and they would have extra backup if something were to happen,” Boruchowitz said.
“Throwing 70 inmates and one or two deputies at a time in there shows a lack of concern for their safety … It’s really just absurd, people are waiting hours and hours to do things, there’s only one deputy on duty and they’ve had to call people in from patrol; it’s just unreal,” he added.
A staffing study done as part of the original grievance filed over proposed staffing levels for the new facility recommended that 31 people be relegated to the jail to fill all needed positions — this number is based on all 224 beds being filled.
According to the study, optimally there should be one lieutenant, five sergeants, five booking/release deputies, five control room deputies, five transport/ escort deputies, five floor deputies, four detention technicians and one office clerk.
According to a letter from NCLEA to Sheriff Tony DeMeo on Oct. 10, there were 13 people immediately available to staff it. With the extra people the sheriff’s office hired or moved to the facility, that total went up to 17 people, including one lieutenant, one reserve lieutenant, two sergeants, 11 deputies and two technicians.
“We’d just ask they come close to following that. But they’re not anywhere near to following that,” Boruchowitz said of the study numbers. “We are just really hoping to come close and we understand there has to be some compromise between the two, but not just denying the grievances like the sheriff does.”
Other issues that have reportedly arisen since the new jail opened include deputies and other staff getting trapped inside the cells and doors opening on their own to areas where inmates are being held inside. One longtime NCSO volunteer confirmed to a reporter recently that he was locked inside a jail cell for 45 minutes before he was freed.
Boruchowitz said in one instance he was walking through the jail with the sheriff when they discovered there was a door that for whatever reason would not shut.
“Other things are going wrong as well, but had we done an appropriate walk through we would have found those errors and hopefully would not have done so with inmates in there,” he said.
When it came to the attention of NCLEA that the building was also operating without a fire escape plan in place when it opened, which is against the law, a grievance was filed over that as well.
“It’s a law, not just a violation of our contract, it’s violating the fire code,” Boruchowitz said.
That grievance also reportedly brought up the fact that the detention center in Tonopah had also been operating without a fire plan in place for some time as well.
“That has nothing to do with the jail down here, but it’s been brought out as awareness from the new facility issues,” he said.
While the union has filed these grievances in response to what they feel is the sheriff ignoring their claims, DeMeo said he has not received one report, email or tip directly from staff members in the jail about the problems the union says are going on.
“I have yet to receive a phone call from them stating, ‘hey, sheriff we have a problem can you come down and give us a hand?’ Now I said that to every sergeant and every time I’ve seen a deputy down there since that jail’s been open, I haven’t gotten one phone call, not one from detention. And every time I go down to detention, those deputies thank me for moving them into that facility. So I don’t know what the union is going on, but when I get deputies working in that environment … saying thank you, thank you, thank you, I don’t know what the union is complaining about, I really don’t,” the sheriff said.
Commenting on the staffing grievance, DeMeo said he still was flummoxed by the union’s assertions.
“As far as staffing, that staffing study had detention techs doing something different than what they’re doing. I wasn’t involved with it and they came up with this thing and they keep going by that and I basically stated that there’s issues with that because they’re looking at a fully functional 224-bed facility. We’re at what, 60 people there? We were handling 60 people at times in the old facility. And now we have more people working there,” he said. “I haven’t gotten one person saying I haven’t received my training. I haven’t gotten one email of someone saying I’m having trouble here. I haven’t gotten one email or person stating I’m not familiar with how to do this, and I was down there on a daily basis when it first opened and I pop in every so often, and no one’s come knocking on my door, or said, ‘hey sheriff, we need more training here.’ If they had said something, we could deal with it.”
As far as problems with the doors or other functions of the jail, the sheriff said he was told everyone had their training before taking over the facility and that those mistakes may have come from human error.
As for the fire plan not being in place, the sheriff said there is one in place now; the problem was just before the facility opened the lieutenant who was formulating the plan had to take a leave of absence, at which time he and Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall finished the plan.
Since there seems to be a disagreement between the views of the sheriff and NCLEA, the grievances have gone before County Manager Pam Webster for further review.
Webster said she planned to make a ruling on the claims this week or next.
“A general failure to train and quickly moving in without checking for issues in the facility is causing severe issues,” Boruchowitz said. “All I’ve ever asked for is communication and an attempt … but he just opened the jail with no regard.”