By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
As Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez faces questions about her department's skyrocketing overtime costs, at least some of her jailers have been logging hours that seem to defy common sense. For the last 24 months, Detention Service Officer Muriana Olugbode has made nearly $175,000 by working about 80 hours a week during that period. Earning close to $90,000 each year, Olugbode made $52,000 more than her annual base salary thanks to extra pay.
Don Peritz, a spokesman for the department, says that Olugbode's work schedule basically adds up to 16-hour shifts five days a week, which he says is nothing extraordinary. According to county records, Olugbode is hardly the only department employee working so much. Ingar Singleton, Tadesse Bayessa and Solomon Desta averaged more than 60 hours a week, 50 weeks a year for the last 24 months, earning approximately $165,000, $127,000 and $134,000 respectively over that time frame.
"We don't have any complaints," says Peritz of the department's hard-working detention service officers. "We don't have any problems with them."
Last week, the Dallas County Commissioners Court summoned the sheriff to discuss her department's overtime costs. According to the county budget office, Valdez's department is projected to spend $8.5 million in extra pay, $6.8 million more than budgeted. Many of the factors that have driven up overtime expenditures are beyond the sheriff's control, particularly the increasing number of inmates that have been brought to the jail recently. In order to comply with state standards, the sheriff's office must have at least one jailer for every 48 inmates. Still understaffed, the department needs willing bodies to work double shifts.
But not everybody is convinced that the jail's guards can work well beyond 40 hours without it taking its toll. Over the last six months, 34 detention service officers in the West Tower at the Lew Sterrett Justice Center made more than $10,000 in overtime. Over the years, the West Tower has been the scene of several high profile cases of alleged inmate neglect. Alice Lynch-Fullen, whose brother Christopher Lynch committed suicide in the West Tower last year, says that too many guards there seemed indifferent to her brother's troubles.
"Just about everybody I spoke to said they were working overtime, and I think that affected their performance greatly," she says. "...The guards are burnt out, and they really just don't care."