Incidents prompt review of Orient Road Jail

03/10/08 Seán Kinane
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During the last month, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has faced allegations of abuse of jail inmates by detention deputies. In response, Sheriff David Gee has formed an 11-member panel to investigate the Sheriff’s Office and conditions within the county’s jails. Today was the first meeting of the Independent Review Commission on Jails.

The most famous case of abuse is the first that came to light, in a video published on the internet in early February. Silent surveillance video from the booking room at Orient Road Jail showed a deputy dumping paraplegic Brian Sterner from his wheelchair.

Col. David Parrish has been in charge of the Hillsborough Jail system since 1981. He said the Orient Road jail has advanced systems both for booking and for the living situation of inmates. Inmates are held under “direct supervision” in which one guard interacts with dozens of inmates, rather than being isolated in a guardroom.

The Orient Road Jail operates an open booking system in which incoming inmates wait in a lobby, not in a holding cell, unless they become disruptive. Parrish said there are often complaints of abuse from inmates, especially during booking, and he called the treatment of wheelchair-bound Brian Sterner “indefensible.”

Major Jim Previtera, who has been responsible for training the county’s detention personnel since 2005, agrees with Parrish that the treatment of Brian Sterner was inappropriate.

Previtera has met with the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities and the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities to solicit training suggestions.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham is a panel member on the Independent Review Commission on Jails. Higginbotham served for a number of years on the Board of Directors of the Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities.

The chair of the Independent Review Commission on Jails, James Sewell, is a former assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Sewell was appointed by Sheriff Gee and in turn selected the remaining 10 members.

Previtera said Hillsborough’s detention personnel receive appropriate use-of-force training.

Chair James Sewell said the Independent Review Commission on Jails will continue to address training and use-of-force policies during later meetings.

Sewell urged people who have concerns they want investigated to contact the Sheriff’s Office. Members of the public who want the commission to hear their concerns can speak during the public meetings, including the next one at 10 a.m. March 21.

The Independent Review Commission on Jails has been asked by Sheriff Gee to provide an initial report by May 9 and a final report by September.

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Learn more:

Independent Review Commission on Jails

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

HCSO’s Department of Detention Services

Advocacy Center for Persons With Disabilities

Brian Sterner YouTube video

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