FORT WORTH, Texas – A jail in northern Texas has been closed and its nearly 60 inmates transferred as authorities investigate what they call dangerous conditions for jailers and those behind bars — including cells that locked from the inside or contained recliners.
Five inmates had already been moved from the Montague County jail to one in a nearby county this month after an FBI raid, said Jack McGaughey, district attorney for Montague, Clay and Archer counties.
McGaughey declined to say what prompted the investigation, also being conducted by the Texas Rangers. But he said authorities found contraband in the jail. New Sheriff Paul Cunningham moved the inmates to the Wise County jail on Thursday a few hours after he was sworn in.
McGaughey said some surveillance cameras' cords had been disconnected; recliners were in cells; some bathrooms and cells could be locked from the inside; and inmates had made partitions out of paper towels to block jailers' views inside their cells. One alarming discovery was a type of rack made of nails, he said.
"This action was taken because there was a concern for the safety of the prisoners and the jail personnel," McGaughey said Friday.
Some inmates had apparently used extension cords to lock deputies out, and unidentified pills were strewn about other jail cells, Dallas-Fort Worth television station WFAA reported.
No one has been arrested, but McGaughey plans to present evidence to a grand jury and said "a number of people" — inmates as well as jailers — could be indicted.
The U.S. attorney's office also is working with the FBI and may bring federal charges, McGaughey said. The FBI in Dallas did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.
Cunningham told WFAA-TV that the conditions made him "shiver" but said he hopes the jail will reopen in two months, with repairs made and inmates back under a new set of rules.
The jail in Montague County, about 65 miles northwest of Fort Worth, has had problems in the past.
In early 2002, four inmates broke out after overpowering a guard with a homemade knife. The two convicted killers and two murder suspects drove off in the guard's SUV but were caught 10 days later at an Oklahoma convenience store.
The Montague County jail had been put on warning about three months before the escape for falling short of the guard-to-inmate ratio. After the breakout officials made a surprise visit and found the jail still out of compliance.