WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter released details Thursday afternoon of a major security breach at the jail.

Sheriff Easter said on Sunday, July 17, 2022, four inmates from a pod pulled out a hose that was connected to a sink in that day area and used it to blast a hole in one of the jail’s windows . The hole was about the size of a fist, Easter said.

He said the inmates pulled a sheet out of the window and used the prison phone system to coordinate with someone outside the prison to bring in cell phones and marijuana. The objects were put away in the sheet and brought up in the cell.

“An inmate later that day came downstairs and told the sergeant what had happened because he was alarmed by it and also concerned for his own safety,” Easter said.

Once the sheriff’s office was notified of the fall, deputies went to the cell, found the hole, and spoke to some of the inmates who created the hole. The cell was then locked so that nothing else could be introduced. Easter said the sheriff’s office learned of three more drops that were scheduled to take place. One of them included bringing a handgun into the facility.

Through further investigation, Easter said MPs learned that nearly 20 shanks had been produced inside the prison in the past 2-3 weeks. He said the breach and the weapons were linked to an incident last week at Lansing Correctional Center. The Kansas Department of Corrections fights and a semi-riot involving a particular gang. Both leaders had once been housed at the Sedgwick County Detention Center.

“The individuals who did this are also associated with this gang. And, it was going to be a similar type issue, where they were going to fight other inmates and riot and attack us,” Easter said.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff‘s Office arrested Detention Deputy Dustin Burnett, 22, on charges of attempting to traffic contraband into a correctional facility, conspiracy to traffic contraband into a correctional facility, in linked to a major security breach at the prison. He was employed there for 6 months.(Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office)

The sheriff said while investigating the July 17 incident, it was learned that the deputy on duty assigned to the group observed the inmates breaking the window and bringing in the contraband.

“And he didn’t arrest him at all and didn’t inform anyone at the time of the incident,” Easter said. “And, he didn’t give the full story of what happened when asked about it.”

The sheriff’s office has arrested and taken into custody Deputy Dustin Barnett, 22, for official misconduct, conspiracy to traffic contraband, and trafficking contraband into the facility. He had been employed at the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office for six months and was fired when arrested. Easter would not say if Burnett had any connection to the inmates who committed the offence.

Easter said that because of the breach, a plan was developed and on Wednesday 169 sheriff’s deputies, both warranted and detained, searched the entire Sedgwick County Detention Center. He said deputies started the search at 6 p.m. and it took about six hours to complete. Deputies found a handcuff key wrapped in duct tape, K-2, two rods, and additional metal objects that could be made into rods. They also found fentanyl pills and a butane lighter.

Easter said that over the past 2-3 weeks at least four more shanks have been seized. He described them as being made of metal and intended to cause significant damage.

“It’s not plastic tools that we grab like we’ve seen in the past, or sharpened plastic spoons, or any other kind of plastic products. They are actually metal striped plates that are forced out of our doors and then shaped into rods. Some of them could produce extremely serious puncture wounds. Others that can produce serious cut-type injuries,” Easter said.

As deputies investigated the security breach, Easter said they were made aware that fake Percocet pills containing fentanyl had been smuggled into Pod 16 on the north side of the building. As deputies searched the south side of the building where the security breach occurred, cameras were used to monitor Pod 16 until a team was released to search the area.

While monitoring the cameras, Easter said he observed an inmate lying face up on the floor inside the gymnasium. Another inmate started performing CPR. A team immediately responded to Pod 16 and a medic arrived within a minute, he said. The inmate received four doses of Narcan. He responded after the last dose and was then taken to hospital for observation. He was later returned to the facility

A full search of Pod 16 was conducted and fentanyl pills were seized from the area confirming information the sheriff’s office had received.

Easter said the inmates involved in the offense would be separated, placed in different cells and locked up due to the severity of what happened.

“These four people are currently serving DD, a disciplinary action we are taking. After that, there will be two that will be on a different type of watch, which means they are housed in a separate area from everyone else, other than people like them who have been doing this sort of thing. And they’re in their cells 22 to 23 hours a day,” Easter said.

He said no more fencing with concertina wire will be placed around certain areas where windows are exposed. Easter said there are plans to introduce cellphone jammers and install metal blinds on the outside of all windows.

Prison staff

The problems arise as the prison continues to struggle with staff. Earlier this week, Sheriff Easter briefed county commissioners on the situation, saying that of the approximately 230 custodial assistant positions, about half are open.

Easter said on safety and security, at full staffing, the ratio is 30 inmates to one deputy. Currently, depending on the shift, that number increases to 69 to 75 inmates per deputy. He said they’ve emptied one module, which frees up an extra deputy, and they hope to emptied a second one.

Easter said the sheriff’s office has also increased its recruiting efforts. The current starting salary is 19.34 hours, which is comparable to some neighboring counties and higher than comparable counties in Oklahoma.

Copyright 2022 KWCH. All rights reserved.

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