Report: SWAT called to Tenn. county jail over inmate 'riot'

A disturbance at the jail last month that a spokesman downplayed as one person acting up was in fact a protest by dozens of prisoners

By Judy Walton
Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.

BRADLEY COUNTY, Tenn. — A disturbance at the Bradley County Jail last month that a spokesman downplayed as one person acting up was in fact a protest by dozens of prisoners that resulted in a SWAT call-out, records show.

Multiple sources told the Times Free Press on June 27 that a major disturbance was happening at the jail. When the newspaper asked the Bradley County Sheriff's Office for information, spokesman Brian Graves said the problem involved "an individual inmate which was handled swiftly [sic] and appropriately without incident."

But dispatch records and officer logs show a dozen SWAT members, two police dogs and an ambulance were summoned to the jail around 12:30 p.m. that day and that "SWAT is about to make entry into D pod for a riot."

In fact, there was no violence. Some or all of the 55 mostly federal prisoners in D pod — officers' accounts differ — staged a sit-in over the quantity and quality of their meals.

The officer logs also show several corrections staff were in the pod and discussing the food problem with the inmates before they were ordered to get out and wait for the SWAT team and dogs.

Graves said Thursday he had responded at the time with the information given to him.

Reports from corrections officers and deputies say the incident started around 11:25 a.m. when inmates complained to corrections officer Scott Dove about the food. That officer notified Sgt. Christa Murray and she called in her lieutenant, James Gregory.

Gregory wrote that on the trays, "what was supposed to be sloppy joe looked like some type of liquid with a few chunks of meat." A black-and-white photo shows meat-flecked broth in the entree slot, with what looks like mashed potatoes, plain pasta, a roll and a biscuit.

Sgt. Christa Murray wrote that Gregory said he would contact the kitchen supervisor. In his report, Gregory wrote that a kitchen trusty told him "they didn't have enough meat so they pulled from left over meat from breakfast the other morning and added it."

Meanwhile, Dove told Murray the inmates were refusing to go to their cells and be locked down. Murray wrote that the "majority" of the 55 inmates were sitting in chairs in the dayroom, refusing to move.

She wrote that an inmate named Adam Delagarza "took it up on himself to be the Pod spokesman and stated that he is a Fed inmate and that we owe it to him to feed him." Another inmate, Corrie Gillespie, made the same complaint, she wrote.

Gregory and another lieutenant came in while Murray was talking to Gillespie and offering to speak to the kitchen supervisor.

"Inmate Gillespie seemed to understand that the matter was not in my control and that we were working on it," Murray wrote.

Just then, Gregory ordered all the corrections staff to leave the pod because SWAT was on the way, she wrote.

Gregory's report said he pulled the officers after Gillespie told him the inmates intended to stay in the dayroom, disobeying an order to go to their cells. Gregory went to the control room and ordered the jail locked down. On TV monitors, "I saw inmates putting towels, clothing and etc. over their faces. It appeared the inmates were preparing to resist when officers re-entered the pod," he wrote.

SWAT Lt. John Stone wrote in his after-action report that the information given the team was that about half the D pod inmates were refusing to go to their cells "and were preparing for confrontation."

But by the time SWAT came in with two dogs, all the inmates had locked themselves in their cells, Stone wrote, and "no force was used against any inmates during the incident."

Gregory wrote that "[d]ue to an ongoing issue with locks being rigged," corrections officers came in after the SWAT team and checked all the locks, and officers worked in pairs for the day.

Gillespie, who was deemed the instigator, was moved to another pod and placed on administrative lockdown, Graves said, and the other D-pod inmates were punished with a 30-day lockdown.

©2018 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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