Summit County officials seek solutions to curb violence against jail deputies
BRECKENRIDGE — Summit County officials are looking for ways to reduce the number of inmate assaults on deputies at the Summit County Detentions Facility after an uptick in attacks in recent months.
As law enforcement and judicial districts continue efforts to prevent violence against patrol deputies across the county, the discussion has evolved to include employees at jails. This year at the Summit jail, there have been at least three instances of assaults, primarily dealing with inmates spitting into the faces of detentions deputies. District Attorney Bruce Brown said he’s hoping to shine a light on the difficulties of working at the jail and find a way to deter inmates from committing future assaults.
“We talk a lot about patrol officers being attacked, particularly by those people that cause them injury, and how it’s important justice be given to those officers by putting the responsible men and women behind bars,” Brown said. “Now, at the place where they are behind bars, they’re still targeting officers and doing it in a fashion that is vulgar, disgusting and would be offensive to any person. … I think it brings on a different chapter in the same story, that we need to protect our officers by turning our attention to why people are literally spitting in the faces of the people who are there to protect them.”
While spitting may not seem like an overly serious crime on the surface, the Colorado Revised Statutes include widespread protections for emergency workers — including detentions employees — to help prevent the purposeful spread of hazardous materials and communicable diseases. Spitting on a jail deputy is considered a class 4 felony assault and is punishable by up to six years in prison with probation eligibility. An attempted assault on a jail deputy is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Brown noted that perpetrators of assaults on jail deputies generally end up pleading guilty to felony attempted assault charges and receive at least some additional jail time. With limited room to strengthen penalties, Brown is hoping that opening up the discussion to stakeholders and members of the public — and making it clear to inmates that spitting could mean an additional prison sentence — will help to curb the behavior.
“I was surprised when I learned that in the recent months there were three separate incidences where jail staff had been spat upon by inmates,” Brown said. “In my tenure as district attorney, I have seen these occur from time to time, but this appeared to be an unusual cluster of events. Based upon that, I wanted to make sure if there was anything we could do to deter people from engaging in this disgusting behavior, that we take those steps to protect jail staff. … I don’t have a quick and easy answer. I’ve spoken to the sheriff in Eagle and Summit, and we’ve agreed this is a good time to engage in discussions to craft a solution to deter that behavior or punish it differently.”
The issue began to surface in January, when a jail deputy was forced to go to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center for medical clearance after an inmate spit in the deputy’s eyes and mouth. Similar incidents took place in March and earlier this month. It appears the same deputy was assaulted in each incident based on reports provided by the District Attorney’s Office.
“Assaults in the jail are always a concern of mine,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “We continually train our staff to prevent assaults, but they’re a regular occurrence.”
FitzSimons continued to say that while assaults are a somewhat inevitable happening in a jail setting, he believes the number of incidents could be reduced with a more robust staff. The jail is fully staffed but not “properly staffed,” said FitzSimons.
“I keep saying we need more staff and that court security needs more staff to secure the justice center,” FitzSimons said. “An understaffed facility is more vulnerable to assaults.”
Whether the solution is potential changes to punishments, additional staffing at the jail, better efforts to educate inmates on the repercussions or something else, officials have been clear they want to take their time to examine the issue to come up with a productive answer.
“We want a thoughtful engagement of stakeholders to see if there’s something proactive that can be done to protect the deputies,” Brown said. “That’s where the discussion is beginning. We don’t want any knee-jerk reactions.”
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BRECKENRIDGE — The pandemic has continued to impact local courts over recent months as judges, attorneys and others adjust to the ever-changing criminal justice landscape in the face of COVID-19.