On January 12, 2022, Andrew Hodge was found dead in his cell in the Rutherford County Detention Center from an alleged drug overdose.
Shortly thereafter, Sheriff Chris Francis suddenly pulled his bid for re-election. Since this incident, the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office have refused to provide Hodge’s family with any information to date as to what happened, leaving the family with nothing but questions.
Newly obtained information, however, tells a disturbing tale of willful and pervasive negligence, ignored warnings, and a nearly ten (10) year period in which the Sheriff, jail administrators, the County Manager, and the County Commissioners have disregarded countless orders from the Department of Health and
Human Services (“DHHS”) instructing them to immediately remedy critical safety failures and policy violations that were directly attributable to a number of deaths in the Rutherford County Jail.
(N.B. Neither the Commissioners nor the County Manager have direct oversight of the Sheriff or jail, but they do control the funding.)
Because many of these orders were issued in response to egregious safety concerns discovered after deaths occurring in the jail, the decision to ignore these directives led to the predictable result of a series of preventable deaths and overdoses, including, most recently, the passing of Andrew Hodge.
YEARS OF NEGLIGENCE, OVERDOSES, AND DEATHS FORECAST THE DEATH OF ANDREW HODGE
On January 11, 2022, five (5) inmates in the Rutherford County Jail overdosed, with at least four (4) of those being transported to Rutherford County Hospital for treatment.
In response, the Criminal Apprehension Team, Narcotics Unit, i.e., the “Black Team,” were called to search the jail for narcotics, which included the use of drug sniffing dogs. Nevertheless, Hodge was found dead in his cell at 4:53 a.m. on January 12, 2022 from an apparent drug overdose.
Based on a newly obtained report from DHHS (Dept. of Health and Human Services), as well as statements from several previous jail employees who have asked not to be named, Hodge’s death was precipitated by years of severe administrative failures, including the failure to comply with mandatory safety laws, as well as an acute
failure to competently respond to the five (5) overdoses that immediately preceded Hodge’s death.
In an April 6, 2022 report, DHHS concluded that “supervision rounds are not being conducted” in accordance with applicable rules.
Absent any other circumstances, DHHS explained that a “jail shall have an officer make supervision rounds and observe each inmate at least two times within a 60 minute time period on an irregular basis with not more than 40 minutes between rounds.”
In addition to this baseline rule, Hodge had been placed on a heightened supervisory tier, which required a “twice per hour direct observation watch.”
Despite Hodge’s special observation status, “there was only one documented supervision round conducted” on January 11, 2022, and “only one documented supervision round conducted during the 12:00 a.m. hour” on January 12, 2022.
In other words, despite the occurrence of five (5) separate overdoses in the late hours of January 11, 2022, jail staff only checked on Hodge – who was in a heightened supervision category – one single time at 12:00 a.m. on January 12, 2022, nearly five (5) hours before he was found lifeless in his cell.
In speaking with several former jail employees about the incident, each employee stated that inmate supervisory obligations are openly ignored by jail employees and have been for years. In addition to these historical failures, those employees each opined that, after five (5) overdoses on the evening of January 11, 2022, the Sheriff and jail administrators should have immediately called in officers from road patrol and from other departments to assist with monitoring responsibilities at the jail given the acute risk of additional overdoses or deaths. That was not done.
HISTORY OF NEGLECT FORECASTED (AND FORECASTS) FUTURE DEATHS
As reflected from the following examples, the failures contributing to Hodge’s death were known to Sheriff Francis, deputies, jail administrators, the County Manager, and the County Commissioners for years, seem entirely preventable, and almost certainly led to (or failed to prevent) many other deaths and near-death overdoses.
In fact, the severe nature of the unabated safety concerns, along with the resulting deaths and overdoses in the jail, have become so pronounced that the exceedingly high death rate is being discussed far beyond the Rutherford County Line.
As but one example, during a recent NAACP debate between Sheriff candidates, moderator Jerry Wease emphasized this problem by describing a recent
incident where a Rutherford County woman was visiting Myrtle Beach and, after identifying Rutherford County as her home, was asked by a local “isn’t that the place where y’all kill people when they are in the jail with drugs?”
The basis for this question is illustrated by the following examples:
1. In April 2012, Jeffrey Neil Watkins was found dead in his cell. As part of the investigation that followed, DHHS cited routine failures to supervise inmates and also found that the intercom system that would have allowed Watkins to seek help was broken.
In criticizing the jail for failing to fix the intercom after being instructed to do so after prior inspections, DHHS noted that it had “instructed your facility to utilize direct supervision some time ago or repair the two-way communication system . . . . The facility has failed to do either.”
Moreover, DHHS concluded that jail administrators failed to take preventative actions when realizing Watkins was standing naked in his cell, he had not eaten from three separate food trays, and his mattress was soaked with urine. DHHS instructed the Sheriff, jail administrators, Sheriff, County Manager, and County Commissioners to immediately address these issues. They did not.
2. In 2014, William Anthony Miller was found dead after hanging himself in his cell. Miller was considered suicidal and, per DHHS rules, should have been monitored four (4) times per hour. However, DHHS found that Miller had not been checked on for, at least an hour, prior to being found. Critically, DHHS, once again, discovered that the broken intercoms identified as an issue in Watkins’ death was still not repaired.
The Sheriff’s Office settled this matter for $9,000 with Miller’s family.
While it is difficult to locate all records for inmate deaths in the Rutherford County Jail, the next known death occurred on January 25, 2020 when Jackie Israel Sanders died shortly after being transported to the jail.
In February 19, 2021, Robert Lattimore was found dead in his cell. While the Sheriff’s Office and jail administrators informed DHHS that Lattimore was found in “distress” and transferred to the hospital where he died approximately thirty (30) minutes later, several former jail employees have disputed that claim. Instead, those employees adamantly stated that Lattimore was dead when found in his cell.
In the investigatory report, DHHS found that only one supervisory round had been conducted on February 18, 2021, and only one supervisory round was made on February 19, 2021, which was the supervisory round where Lattimore was found dead.
In response to DHHS’ findings and demands that the continuing rule and safety violations be immediately corrected, the Sheriff’s Office and jail administrators responded that, “[d]ue to working shorthanded in the jail supervision rounds may have been missed. Administration have given the Sgt’s and Cpl’s access to Guard One plus in order to keep up with rounds being missed and documentation will accompany the officers and the officers will be held accountable if the supervision rounds are not met per regulations.”
In a subsequent report dated May 10, 2021, DHHS noted a total failure by jail staff to comply with supervisory rounds for the period audited in the report. As with other previous inspection reports, DHHS emphasized that “supervision rounds should be reviewed on a regular basis by the administration and any non-compliance with the Rules should be addressed immediately.”
Despite assurances from the Sheriff, jail administrators, the County Manager, and the County Commission, it appears no officers were “held accountable,” and the complete neglect of these issues continued.
As became apparent with the death of Andrew Hodge on January 12, 2022, the Sheriff’s Office, jail administrators, the County Manager, and the County Commissioners, once again, failed to correct or ensure corrections of these
issues that DHHS has demanded be addressed for nearly a decade. As a result, the negligence of our local officials – particularly when five (5) other overdoses had just occurred hours before – paved the way for this tragedy.
As with all previous safety and rule violations, deaths, and overdoses, it appears
no officials or officers were “held accountable,” and, with history as a guide, it is doubtful that any officials or officers ever will be.
In addition to the issues identified above, multiple DHHS reports have identified a laundry list of other serious violations. As but one example, DHHS repeatedly notified the Sheriff, jail administrators, the County Manager, and the County Commission that that the fire sprinkler system in the jail was non-functional and must be immediately repaired. Those instructions were ignored and, based on a recent DHHS report, these officials demonstrated a complete disregard of DHHS’ instructions by stating that
they were “waiting for the inmates to ‘pop’ the other sprinklers before they were replaced.”
Many other violations identified by DHHS, e.g., no soap, hot water, or hand drying items during the height of the COVID pandemic, flammable chemicals stored and zip tied to electrical conduits, damage to ceiling tiles that “negat[e] their fire barrier protection” (that, combined with non-functional sprinkling system, and flammable chemicals stored next to electrical conduits, could be catastrophic), ventilation
and sanitary issues, etc. have also been entirely ignored.
The years of neglect, ignored instructions from DHHS, deaths, and overdoses are extraordinarily serious problems.
In fact, according to an August 13, 2017 article by The News & Observer, these (and other issues) in the Rutherford County Jail are of such a severe nature that calls for the Rutherford County Jail to be shut down began.
In the nearly five (5) years since discussions of shutting the jail down began, at least four (4) jail deaths and countless overdoses have occurred.
The Sheriff’s Office and jail administrators have repeatedly acknowledged the failures identified above and made unfulfilled promises to remedy those issues. For the approximately ten (10) year period discussed above, the Sheriff’s Office and jail administrators routinely claimed that understaffing is significant component of these failures.
Yet, despite the rising death toll and troubling incidents of overdoses, no one – not the Sheriff, the jail administrators, the County Manager, the County Commissioners, etc. – have taken any actions to properly staff the jail – even if that means bringing
officers from other departments or requesting assistance from the Governor.
Since Andrew Hodge’s passing, the Sheriff and District Attorney have refused to provide Hodge’s family with any answers as to what happened and why.
From the newly obtained information detailing the severe and longstanding safety concerns, our local officials’ silence raises questions as to whether their intent was to conceal the negligence intertwined with Hodge’s death and, once again, move forward
without remedying the many issues identified by DHHS over the past ten (10) years.
When local officials fail to address issues of this magnitude, it often becomes necessary to seek assistance from outside State officials or agencies, e.g., the Governor, the Attorney General, DHHS, etc., or to request federal oversight, which is often precipitated by filing complaints with the United States Attorney, the FBI, etc.
Based on our local officials’ complete neglect of these issues, it may now be time
to pursue these options.