Shakedown surprises inmates
PARK COUNTY – Last week, the Dillon K-9 team of Officers Mike Wheat and police dog Sander joined special response teams from Park, Teller and Chaffee counties and special operations response team officers at the Park County jail for a surprise shakedown.
On Thursday afternoon, things were going pretty much as usual for the inmates of C Block. For the previous few days, the prisoners had been moved out of their cells to the exercise room briefly while a door in the cellblock was repaired, so it was no surprise when jail officer Darlene Ellis’ voice came over the speakers telling them to get ready for another repair job. At 4:45 p.m., however, things became anything but routine.
Suddenly, the rhythmic march-beat of nearly two-dozen heavy boots rang on the concrete floor as officers clad in black body armor and carrying full-length police shields quickly surrounded the door into C block.
The surprised inmates were hustled into the nearby exercise room. Inmate Oscar Gonzales was cuffed, arrested and quickly removed to another part of the facility while the remaining C block prisoners were body searched and sent into the exercise yard. Outside, police clad in black riot uniforms and helmets guarded the perimeter fence – built six months ago by some of the Park County inmates – with still more police posted on the jail roof armed with nonlethal weapons.
The confused prisoners milled about the yard, while Park County Jail Capt. Monte Gore announced that their cells were being searched for contraband.
As the wide-eyed residents of the other three cellblocks watched through the heavy plate glass windows facing the interior observation area, Gore, Park County Sheriff Fred Wegner, jail officers and Wheat and Sander searched every square inch of the 10 cells in C Block. Sander not only helped in the search, but his intimidating bark helped keep the watchful prisoners in the other cell blocks well under control.
“We gained intelligence that prisoners were making shanks (weapons) for a possible gang-related fight,” Gore said. He said the information came partially from tapes made by a newly installed security camera system that also recorded actions leading to Gonzales’ arrest for assault.
When Gore decided that a full search of C block was necessary, he took the opportunity to team with neighboring police forces, staging a combined operation to make it clear to inmates and the community that they could expect a quick and forceful response if necessary.
“Some of the inmates we have now are cons – parole violators from other areas who might have thought they would have it easy coming to a small facility like Park County,” Gore said. The operation was designed to show that isn’t the case.
An observer and gang specialist from a large Colorado police force who evaluated the event said it “was one of the most organized operations of this size” he’d ever seen.
The jail, built in 1995 as a 100-person facility, was originally expected to house local law violators but had problems meeting state standards while under the management of a private company. Under the leadership of Gore, formerly the captain of the Summit County jail, the facility has undergone some changes, including the prisoner-constructed, razor-wire fence and a state-of-the-art security system.
When Gore took over in 2000, the jail housed only 12 prisoners. It now houses 145 inmates, many from overcrowded facilities in surrounding areas. The operation has gone from losing money to operating in the black, earning money from each prisoner it takes in from other facilities. Last year, Gore showed revenues of more than $1.6 million.
“We are now approved to house state and federal prisoners,” Gore said, but he acknowledges that with the additional income also come potential problems in handling more hardened criminals. “We’re finding out now that we have various gang members with some of the conflicts that go along with that, so we are quickly getting current on how to deal with it,” he said.
After about an hour of methodical and thorough searches, the officers brought the prisoners back to pick up their personal effects. They were ordered to move into B block, which had since been evacuated. The former B block inmates were given cells in C block, and the holding areas began to quiet down, as all the prisoners recovered from the excitement.
In a debriefing session with the participating police teams, Gore lifted a plastic bag high enough for all to see. He announced, “We did find that our information was correct. We did recover minor contraband and this,” displaying a wooden holder for Scrabble playing tiles that had been partially shaved into a knife.
Gore complimented the officers participating in the operation: “There was no question that all through the operation we had complete control.” He said the work of the Dillon K-9 unit “was outstanding.” All the team leaders had high praise for the combined operation and pledged to maintain the network of cooperation for any future situations.
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