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Autauga County Commission feuds with sheriff over conditions in county jail

The commission ignored complaints about the jail lacking “functioning fire alarm systems since 2016.”

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On Tuesday, Autauga County Sheriff Mark Harrell and his lawyer, Tray Richardson, spoke before the Autauga County Commission. They complained about a lack of communication from the County Commission regarding several ongoing problems with the county jail.

According to Harrell’s lawyer, the sheriff was first informed of the presence of black mold on April 1 and began to seek a place on the county commission’s agenda soon thereafter. However, Harrell reportedly was unable to get on the agenda so he hired Richardson on June 5, the day before Harrell evacuated the county jail.

“I’ve sent y’all emails and y’all have not responded,” Harrell told the commission. Holding up pictures of the jail’s ventilation system with apparent mold, Harrell said “this is what my deputies have to work in.”

“The current state of the jail is unsafe, it is unhealthy, and it is in desperate need of help,” Richardson told the county commission on Harrell’s behalf.

Richardson specifically reported that a state fire marshal said the county jail “has not had functioning fire alarm systems since 2016,” that metal doors have corroded, and that the jail’s control boards “often fail.”

Patrick Lucas Sr., a correctional lieutenant who streamed the commission meeting on Facebook, stated that county commissioner John Thrailkill has said ‘y’all should get some bleach and a spray bottle and that would get rid of the mold.’

In a press release sent out Tuesday night, the Autauga County Commission said that a contractor did find “high concentrations of Cladosporium (everyday mold)” but there was only “a rare concentration of black mold (stachybotrys) … located in an isolated area which is in the upper level of the jail.”

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While Harrell’s lawyer said nonfunctional fire alarms were a major point of concern for his client, the county commission’s press release stated that in late 2022, the Sheriff and Jail Warden were involved in prioritizing the timeline of the jail projects, including fire alarm system updates.

The County Commission also claimed that Harrell’s decision to evacuate the county jail earlier this month placed “an undue financial burden on the taxpayers of Autauga County” and pointed to the “higher risk of harm” to inmates and staff moving between facilities poses.

The commission’s press release did not touch on the county courthouse or sheriff’s office, which Richardson also said have faced significant problems.

We’re going to work this out, Harrell told a reporter outside the Autauga County Commission Office. I don’t know how long this is going to take but I told them that remediation of that jail is going to have to take place.

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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Asking the County Commission to address “health and safety issues,” Sheriff Mark Harrell evacuated the Autauga County jail on Thursday.

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