Dallas County Jail Staff Shortage Is Endangering Jailers' And Inmates' Lives, Staff Say

Dallas County Jailers say a severe staffing shortage is placing inmates' and staffs' lives in danger.
Dallas County Jailers say a severe staffing shortage is placing inmates' and staffs' lives in danger. Michael Murney
When around a dozen Dallas County Jail officers gathered on the steps of the Frank Crowley Courthouse Tuesday, they wore street clothes, donned masks and held signs denouncing what they say is a dangerous staffing crisis inside the jail.

“What we’ve been seeing recently is people retire, quit or just leave, and no new hires coming in,” said Emmanuel Lewis, an officer at the jail.

With the number of officers thinning by the day, those who remain have been forced to follow one standard eight-hour shift with another on the same day — what multiple officers call being "mandated."

The staff shortage is so severe, they say, that many officers are "mandated" into working 16-hour days for up to five days in a row. Oftentimes, the officers have less than a half-hour left in their first shift and then a phone call comes, informing them that they have to stay on duty.

The staff shortage sets the stage for events that threaten the safety of officers and detainees alike, they say.

Take, for example, an incident that took place Feb. 14, according to a report obtained by the Observer. That day, a Dallas County sergeant summoned a crew of officers to help remove a detainee named Paul Baffow from a "timeout cell," where detainees are sometimes placed after showing aggressive behavior.

According to Lewis and another officer, who asked to remain anonymous, that crew was made up mostly of new jailers.

When the jail isn't short-staffed, experienced officers are called in to manage potentially violent confrontations with detainees, Lewis explained. “But with these staffing issues, people are being sent into situations where there should be more staff and older staff," he said. "And they should be allowed to use their spray."

"They should be lauded as heroes, not belittled. It's a cover up." Emmanuel Lewis

tweet this
Baffow refused to comply with the sergeant and her subordinate officers as they ordered him to exit the cell. He had flooded the cell with sink and toilet water. While the officers deliberated, Baffow pulled out a shiv he’d made from a stolen cafeteria spoon and said, “I’m not going down without taking at least one of you with me.”

The officers summoned to the timeout cell by the sergeant wanted to use their pepper spray to subdue Baffow before entering. The sergeant forbade it, then ordered them to enter the cell and detain him.

"Baffow was disarmed, guided to the ground, and both arms were placed in elevated back arm locks for handcuffing," reads the incident report.

The report states that three of the officers "sustained injuries while subduing Baffow." It fails to mention that one of them was rushed to the hospital in dire condition after Baffow stabbed him in the eye and neck.

Lewis said officers involved in the incident have since faced undue scrutiny and disciplinary action on the job in what he described as attempts to keep them from discussing the incident. “They should be lauded as heroes, not belittled. It’s a cover up,” he said.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

In recent months, the sheriff's office has faced scrutiny over the spread of COVID-19 inside Dallas County Jail.

According to officers and inmates, living conditions inside the jail have grown increasingly grim. Inmates have said they've gone weeks without clean clothes, have little access to cleaning supplies and rarely get personal protective gear, such as masks. 
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney