The union that represents Fayette County Detention Center employees has taken the unusual step of voting ‘no confidence’ in jail leadership amid a mass exodus of staff, excessive overtime, increasing concerns about safety and reports of unchecked sexual harassment.
The Fraternal Order of Police Town Branch Lodge Number 83 executive board issued a unanimous ‘no confidence’ vote in executive director Steve Haney and assistant director Harold Byrne at a meeting on Sept. 12.
An online survey conducted Sept. 19 to Sept. 24 answered by 151 jail employees showed 83 percent agreed with the executive board’s no confidence vote of Haney. Those 151 jail employees are 64 percent of the approximately 227 employees at the detention enter.
The survey also found that 80 percent of employees fear for their safety.
“Problems at the jail are at a boiling point,” said Michael Harris, president of the FOP lodge. “We are less than three months into the 2019-2020 fiscal year and twenty-two officers have left the facility — this represents nearly 10 percent of our entire workforce in ten weeks.”
Jail employees can not legally strike. A no confidence vote is one of the most serious actions the union can take.
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said city officials just received results from the FOP survey and need additional time before commenting on its findings. She said the city is taking the issues raised in the survey seriously.
Jails across Kentucky and the country are struggling with similar issues, Straub said.
“The city started working on these issues in the previous administration,” Straub said. “We have continued to work on them with the FOP. We are about to complete installation of a new computerized security system. However, this survey indicates we need a more in-depth approach. We are working on the details of that examination, who will conduct it and how.”
Jail officers have had to work many overtime shifts to make up for lack of staff. Employees also are being disciplined because they do not have time to complete all tasks and paperwork because of inadequate staffing, further eroding morale, union officials said.
The jail is supposed to have 278 employees. It currently has 227. When the new detention center opened in 2002, it had 299 employees.
“Having to report to internal affairs or attend discipline hearings to face allegations of inefficiency or misconduct has become a normal part of most officers’ workweek,” said Nancy Quinette, an officer and member of the FOP executive board. “Officers are being asked to conform to unreasonable mandates during their 16-hour shifts and then disciplined when those are not achieved.”
Union officials said during former jail director Rodney Ballard’s last 12 months there were a total of 30 disciplinary actions. In August 2019 alone, there were 37 disciplinary actions. Ballard left the jail to take a state job in 2016.
The lack of staff has resulted in one serious injury, union officials said.
In June, James Summers, a corrections officer, was assaulted in one of the housing units by an inmate. He was the only officer in the unit. Other inmates came to Summers’ aide, but he suffered serious injuries, including hearing loss in both ears and memory loss, Summers said.
“He was knocked out with his head landing on a concrete floor,” said Steve Parker, the vice president of FOP Lodge 83. “He suffered serious injuries requiring hospitalization and continued medical treatment.”
Other jail staff could not get to Summers quickly because the jail security system was not functioning properly, Parker said.
The Lexington Herald-Leader requested all documents related to the attack on Summers, including any video of the incident. That request was denied because the incident was allegedly still under investigation, according to a Sept. 25 letter from the Fayette County Detention Center.
However, Summers and union officials said Thursday they know of no investigation and said the city should release the video.
“I am not aware of any investigation,” Summers said, who has been with the department for nearly 20 years. Summers has been off work for three months due to his injuries.
Straub said an inmate has been criminally charged in the assault against Summers. Those charges are still pending.
“That is the reason the records and video are unavailable at this time,” Straub said. “An internal investigation at the jail of this incident will be formally completed after the criminal case is complete.”
The survey of jail employees also found that many have witnessed racial discrimination and sexual harassment, and the majority of respondents said they have witnessed supervisors retaliating against employees for reporting harassment or other problems.
Approximately 44 percent, or 66 employees, said they have witnessed quid pro quo sexual harassment — supervisors offering preferential treatment to subordinates in exchange for sexual favors.
Forty-nine employees said they had experienced either harassment or racial discrimination.
Many jail employees also said they felt no or little confidence in jail administration or the city’s human resources department to properly investigate sexual, gender or racial discrimination complaints. Approximately 55 percent said they were aware of employees being retaliated against by supervisors for reporting violations.
“When more than one half of the workforce believe they will suffer adverse consequences for doing the right thing and reporting unlawful conduct there is a serious problem — one that is ignored or covered up by the agency with the internal authority to protect people,” said Quinette.
Straub said human resources gives those types of complaints top priority.
“Again, the issues raised in this survey are issues Mayor Linda Gorton takes very seriously,” Straub said. “But we need time to get to the bottom of them.”
Last fall, the city addressed some of the staffing and overtime concerns after detention center employees came to a Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council meeting to ask for help. Those fixes included upping staffing efforts, moving state inmates to state prisons and allowing staff that typically don’t work in housing units to do so.
Things improved for a short time, union officials said.
But the survey of employees showed that morale at the jail on Old Frankfort Circle is low. Approximately 79 percent of those surveyed said morale was low while 16 percent said it was below average. Only 5 percent said it was average. Not a single respondent said morale was above average or excellent.
Most — nearly 59 percent — said they have looked for another job.
On Thursday, the detention center announced a Saturday hiring fair at the jail. In a written news release, the city said they hope to hire an additional 40 detention center employees.