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Report: Wausau jail among state's poorest staffed (with documents)

Officer remains hospitalized after inmate attack

Mar. 29, 2013
 
Bob Dickman, Marathon County jail administrator, deals with conflict resolution with inmate George Fischer outside a cell block.
Bob Dickman, Marathon County jail administrator, deals with conflict resolution with inmate George Fischer outside a cell block. / Daily Herald Media file photo
Thomas Pedersen reads the paper as the other inmates at the Marathon County Jail Thursday September 30, 2010. / Daily Herald Media file photo

Mom of possible suspect speaks out

Marathon County Sheriff’s Department officials have declined to release the name of the inmate involved in Wednesday’s jailhouse beating. One Marathon County Jail inmate, Fredrick A. Morris, was transferred without explanation Wednesday from Marathon County Jail to the Lincoln County Jail in Merrill. Morris had been held in the Marathon County Jail for 54 days on felony charges of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, false imprisonment and illegal possession of a firearm, online court records said.
Morris’ mother, Eleanor Henderson of Wausau, told a Daily Herald Media reporter Friday she has been denied access to her son since he was moved to Merrill. Henderson said she is frantic with worry over her son, who she said suffers from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a social attachment disorder and takes multiple medications to control his condition.
“I want to know what happened,” Henderson said. “I want to know what led up to this. I am praying every day that this woman lives, but something happened to make my son react this way. He didn’t just wake up in the morning, eat a bowl of cereal and decide to beat ... this woman.”

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Overcrowded O block in the Marathon County jail shows inmates watching TV and playing games to pass the time in tight conditions in this 2010 Daily Herald Media file photo. / Daily Herald Media file photo

More

The Marathon County Jail was considered dangerously understaffed in a 2007 study, and it had one fewer employee Wednesday when an inmate attacked and critically injured a corrections officer, Daily Herald Media has learned.

The 2007 report generated by consultants Dennis Kimme and Gary Bowker, along with Marathon County Jail Administrator Bob Dickman, documented conditions in the jail and identified weaknesses meant to be addressed in future renovations or expansions. The study, which the county submitted Friday to Daily Herald Media , found that Marathon County fell sharply below the state average for officers-to-inmate staffing and was dead last when compared with seven other county jails within the state, including those in Portage and Wood counties. The Marathon County Jail is housed within the courthouse in downtown Wausau.

“Marathon County’s staff to inmate ratio is not only low for the inmate numbers to be managed, but demonstrably low when compared to state averages and peer counties,” the consultants wrote in the report. “In the opinion of the consultants ... it is clear that additional staffing is needed at the Marathon County Jail if it is to house the numbers of inmates it has been housing safely, securely and with a minimum county liability.”

At the time the report was released, the jail had 49 full-time staff members, including administrators and detention officers. Marathon County Human Resources Director Frank Matel said Friday that the jail now has 48 full-time staff members with one opening for a corrections officer.

Melissa J. Johnson, 27, of Amherst said her mother is a corrections officer at the Marathon County Jail, though Johnson declined to give her mother’s name. Johnson, who shared with Daily Herald Media a letter she sent Thursday to Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger outlining her concerns about jail safety, said she believes her mother is in constant danger while at work because of “dangerously low” staffing levels. She also is concerned that corrections officers are not allowed to carry stun guns.

“They have the Tasers at the jail, but the officers aren’t allowed to carry them,” Johnson said. “(The officers) should be able to protect themselves with something other than pepper spray.”

Karger confirmed corrections officers carry only pepper spray as weapons in the jail and said the rule is in place because any weapon carried by a corrections officer could be wrestled away by an inmate and used to harm officers.

Karger said he doesn’t believe staff levels contributed to Wednesday’s beating, and he said the Marathon County Jail has never failed to pass an inspection. Inspections are performed each year by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Office of Detention Facilities, according to the DOC website. It is unclear when the last jail inspection was performed at the Marathon County Jail.

“We just need to get through this event first, before we even start looking at staffing, whether or not it was a factor,” Karger said. “Right now, I just hope people will continue to use message boards and social media to express their support for the officers involved and their families. They’ve all been deeply affected by this.”

Officials remained largely silent Friday about the attack at the jail, which left two officers injured, including a 36-year-old woman who remained in critical condition at a Wausau hospital.

The assault occurred Wednesday afternoon after an inmate became combative and beat a corrections officer repeatedly in the head, according to a news release issued Thursday. A second officer who attempted to intervene also was injured, according to the release. Daily Herald Media has learned the name of the injured woman but is withholding her identity because she is the victim of a violent crime and her name has not yet been released by the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department.

A news conference is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Shereen Skola can be reached at 715-845-0773. Find her on Twitter as http://twitter.com/Shereen%20Skola.

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