SPOKANE - Every so often corrections deputies at the Spokane County Jail launch surprise searches to confiscate contraband and insure the safety and security of prisoners and officers alike. How they do it and what the inmates are hiding gives an interesting glimpse at life behind bars.
The Spokane County Jail?s Corrections Response Team is a special organization equipped and trained to work in a hostile environment. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week they operate behind enemy lines, surrounded by prisoners of the Spokane County Jail.
The team?s leader is Sergeant R.D. Smith. Recently he was concerned about the discovery of a makeshift rope made from torn bed sheets on the jail?s fifth floor. It could be used as a weapon or in an escape attempt.
?That is a damn long fishing line, who knows what else they might have up there,? Sergeant Smith said.
His team is briefed and gears up to go inside to face the prisoners and shake them down for contraband.
?I want to find stuff like this: Lighters, matches, any potential shanks,? Smith says as he briefs his team.
Once the team is geared up and briefed on the plan they head in to begin clearing out the cells. One by one prisoners are taken out of their cells in handcuffs and marched to the showers where their clothing and bodies are searched.
One of those prisoners is Chris Cannata, who is suspected of braiding together the rope that triggered a two-day lockdown. He tells officers that he uses it to work out.
?Crazy as it sounds I wrap it around my bin and I work out with it, I do rows and dead lifts,? Cannata said.
Corrections deputies accept Cannata?s explanation but in a surprise demonstration of accountability you might not expect to find behind bars Cannata goes a step further and takes responsibility for his actions.
?After this is done he should put me in the hole, I should take the punishment, rather than everybody else,? Cannata said.
Another prisoner isn?t so compliant with the deputies during the search. The prisoner gets upset and accuses a corrections deputy of throwing his pencil in the toilet. Sergeant Smith tries to calm the inmate and says he?ll get him another pencil and as he walks away Smith hears the inmate call him a punk.
Any type of disrespect toward staff is considered a major infraction. The prisoner argues his way into a trip to the hole and makes matters worse by refusing to cuff up, in other words voluntarily have handcuffs put on him so he can be secured.
When prisoners won?t leave their cell voluntarily, corrections deputies are forced to do an extraction. During an extraction, deputies dog pile on an inmate and cuff their arms and legs. Deputies say when verbal commands fail brute force keeps the jail from spiraling out of control.
If things are tough managing prisoners at the Spokane County Jail it?s even tougher at the Geiger Corrections Center. It's been a year and a half since the old Army barracks that house prisoners now were searched and while razor wire keeps inmates in, it?s much harder to keep contraband out.
?Because it's not a hardened facility like the jail, they're in group rooms. Six to eight to a room, there's no doors on the room,? Sergeant Smith said.
That means prisoners can't be locked in their cells during the shakedown so corrections deputies have to take all of them out at the same time. When the Corrections Response Team goes in to search the cells prisoners aren?t happy about the early morning wake up call or being sent out into the rain. Prisoners who refuse orders from corrections deputies get a wake up call courtesy of the CRT.
?Attitude and we've had a few of those already that we've had to our transport van for transport down to county because of their attitude,? Smith said.
Outnumbered fifteen to one the CRT is only armed with non-lethal like pepper spray and a shotgun that shoots bean bag rounds.
?We have a few deputies but with their equipment and the way they are trained its a force multiplier,? Smith said.
As the deputies search the facility they find a razor behind a heater, prescription drugs in another room. Prisoners cut off from their daily fix because they've just been locked up struggle with their sudden sobriety, as is the case with one of the female prisoners they encounter. They suspect she was doing methamphetamines out on the streets, and inside the corrections center her heart?s racing and her mind clouded with delusions.
To protect her as well as the CRT she gets restrained in a chair and a jail nurse takes her vital signs to make sure the prisoner is doing OK. It turns out the prisoner isn?t doing well and might be suffering from excited delirium; ongoing training helps corrections officers better recognize medical and mental health problems.
The only problem is that in an overcrowded, understaffed jail taking time to deal with one prisoner?s issues impacts the entire operation.
?We're backing up traffic in our booking area, we've had to stop commissary, all our transports going to court are delayed,? Spokane County Jail Sergeant Stephan Long said.
Right now there are more than 700 suspected criminals locked up in the Spokane County Jail and at Geiger Corrections Center and one of the only things that keeps those overcrowded facilities from erupting in violence is the Corrections Response Team.
?Our job is to make sure they're safe and secure until they get to the courts and go through the process and if we can do that we've done our job,? Sergeant Long said.