More than 30 Allegheny County Jail guards sign letter asking for new ’emergency protocol’ for stabbings |
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Theresa Clift
The Allegheny County Jail in Downtown Pittsburgh on Monday, February 25, 2013. Tribune-Review

More than 30 Allegheny County Jail guards and nurses have signed a letter addressed to a county councilwoman asking for an emergency protocol to find weapons faster when stabbings occur at the jail.

The guards and nurses want policies that would require guards to search the entire level for weapons after inmates or staff members are stabbed.

“On July 27, we had two of our officers stabbed on a maximum-security pod,” the letter, obtained by the Trib from a County Council member, said. “Our facility was not searched top to bottom after the stabbing occurred. We continue to find more weapons and suspected drugs throughout the facility. As officers, we don’t feel like our safety is top priority for the Warden, or the County.”

The letter was addressed to Councilwoman Anita Prizio, D-O’Hara. She passed out copies to all council members before Tuesday’s council meeting, she said.

“I think we’re going to meet with (the guards),” Prizio said. “It’s a significant issue, but I’m not sure how it plays out with the (jail guard) union contracts and everything.”

Councilman Nicholas Futules, D-Oakmont, said he does not believe council has the power to make the change the letter requests.

“They should be going to the police union, the guard union, the county executive’s office, the manager. We don’t make these decisions or vote,” Futules said. “I’m staying out of it. It’s none of our business.”

After two inmates stabbed two guards multiple times July 27, county detectives found two shanks, six to eight-inch spikes with cloth handles. On Aug. 2, an inmate was stabbed with a shank , the mother of two jail guards told the Trib.

The letter asked that if a stabbing happens on levels six through eight that all three of those levels be searched, because those inmates frequently all go to medical, school and religious activities at the same time.

“We hope you value the safety of the inmates, volunteer staff, public defenders, private attorneys, Chaplaincy, medical professionals, education professionals and Correction Officers as much as we do, and consider our request,” the letter said.

Councilwoman Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, said she wants the council to create a special committee comprised of council members from both parties to investigate the causes of the recent stabbings and make recommendations for protocol changes.

“These are serious allegations. There needs to be an investigation,” Means said. “The members of our jail staff and the inmates need to be safe.”

Robert Palmosina, D-Banksville, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he planned to meet next week with several of the guards who signed the letter.

“I do want to hear their concerns,” said Palmosina, who began serving on council in January. “My opinion is it’s all about the safety. Not just the guards, but the safety of everyone down there. Being the Public Safety (Committee) chair, it’s my job to meet with them.”

After he meets with the guards, Palmosina said he may raise the topic at a future committee meeting.

Councilman Pat Catena, D-Carnegie, said he wants to know what protocols are currently in place for stabbing incidents before weighing in.

“If there’s a situation we can improve upon, I’d be open to it,” he said.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs said county officials have not yet seen the letter.

Warden Orlando Harper said during a Jail Oversight Board meeting in August that after the recent double stabbing, every cell and every pod would be searched, but not immediately.

Downs said in August the county would not provide details about the search for security reasons.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.

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