A sheriff who told of every jail break

Monday, September 28, 2009

Here's another story from another time and place that has a bearing on the here and now.

Sheriff Jim knew there were problems brewing in cells behind his desk. Fortunately, for him, the worst came during the next administration.

The jail had too many prisoners, so it was declared a place where punishment was cruel and unusual because of crowding. It's unconstitutional. There were more than twice as many prisoners as the joint was built for.

Jim complained of "'lectric doors." They slid on tracks like closet doors, so escape was to a hall, up cross bars, above a suspended ceiling and out the roof.

Money was sought for repairs, but times were hard. Commissioners said "No" when car loans were at 20 percent and, as a revenuer said in Georgia; "Unemployment's up. Sugar price's down. People gonna make some 'shine.'"

With other crimes, the inmate population grew. After jailbreaks, Jim called the newsroom and we had another story.

Jim seemed relieved when he wasn't re-elected. His successor wasn't a good manager.

Other county sheriffs knew to sue county commissions for not providing adequate funding for their departments. It's true of other departments, including the court system.

This old tale without much of an ending came to mind last week when our sheriff leaned over saying: "Man made bond with money from a bank robbery."

My eyes popped opened. I asked. He answered. When? This afternoon. Where? The jail. Who's got details? Billy referred me to a captain.

Details showed THP Trooper Will Spivy stopped Kenneth James Payer, 37, of Pittsburg, Pa., at mile marker 32 on I-65 and booked him into jail on a revoked license charge. Payer paid $1,500 bond in cash, got his car from impound for $200 cash and drove away before Franklin Police announced a Cool Springs bank was robbed just before Payer was stopped.

With an "uh oh" moment, local lawmen thought they released a bank robber.

They hadn't. Payer was stopped again and had reasons for having so much cash. The bank robber was still at-large this week.

"Stop the presses," Billy said last Wednesday morning.

They'd not run. Nor was it on our web site.

As for Payer allegedly driving off on a revoked license, I was told, "That's his choice" to break the law again. He's subject to arrest, again.

Having heard of the arrest, release and bank robbery - before knowing the rest of the story -- commissioners kidded the sheriff for trying to increase the department's arrest rate. The exaggeration was good-natured among those who know the truth sets you free.

These two stories are offered for a comparison.

Our county's budget is tight as a drum, but money was found to keep track of inmates and there's a change in the health care program for inmates.

Stimulus money is being used to pay for another deputy, but across department budgets there's been some serious belt tightening with supervisors picking up slack.

So one of the messages from these stories is "Don't shortchange the good guys. They keep us safe."

By the way, we don't need jailbreak stories. There's plenty going on for another story.