Jail Closed, Inmates Moved After Recliners Found in Cells

Plano Fire-Rescue truck
NBC 5 News

Three weeks after an FBI raid, a North Texas jail has been closed and its nearly 60 inmates transferred as authorities investigate what they call dangerous conditions for jailers and those behind bars.

Montague County Sheriff Paul Cunningham moved the inmates to the nearby Wise County Jail on Thursday morning a few hours after he was sworn in as the new sheriff just after midnight.

Jack McGaughey, district attorney for Montague, Clay and Archer counties, declined to say what prompted the investigation, also being conducted by the Texas Rangers. But he said authorities found contraband in the Montague County Jail.

He also said some surveillance cameras' cords had been disconnected; recliners were in cells; some bathrooms and cells could be locked from the inside; and inmates had made partitions out of paper towels to block jailers' view inside their cells. One alarming discovery was a type of rack made of nails, he said.

"This action was taken because there was a concern for the safety of the prisoners and the jail personnel," McGaughey said Friday.

Some inmates had apparently used extension cords between cells and doors to lock deputies out, and unidentified pills were strewn about other jail cells, Dallas-Fort Worth television station WFAA reported.

Five inmates were removed and transferred to the Wise County Jail the day of the FBI raid earlier this month based on the investigation, McGaughey said. No one has been arrested yet, but McGaughey plans to present evidence to a grand jury and said "a number of people" — inmates as well as jailers — could be indicted.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also is working with the FBI and may bring federal charges in the case, McGaughey said.

The FBI in Dallas did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

Cunningham told WFAA-TV that the conditions made him "shiver" but said he hopes the jail will open again in two months, with repairs made and inmates back under a new set of rules.

The jail in Montague County, about 65 miles northwest of Fort Worth, has had other problems through the years.

In early 2002, four inmates broke out of the Montague County Jail after overpowering a guard with a homemade knife. The two convicted killers and two murder suspects drove off in the guard's sport utility vehicle but were caught 10 days later at an Ardmore, Okla., convenience store.

The Montague County Jail had been "decertified," or put on warning, about three months before the escape for falling short of the guard-to-inmate ratio. After the breakout the Texas Commission on Jail Standards made a surprise visit and found the jail still out of compliance.

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