Assaults on Clallam County jail staff increase

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County jail has seen a sharp uptick in assaults on jail staff and there isn’t a clear reason why.

So far this year there have been eight attacks on jail staff, with six of those attacks happening during a one-week period last month. Last year there were only four such incidents.

“Why suddenly the inmates are becoming more aggressive, we’re not sure,” said Chief Corrections Deputy Wendy Peterson. “We’ve got our concerns up and we’re paying attention a bit closer.”

Peterson said she didn’t check how many attacks had happened in years prior to 2017, but suspected there are typically fewer than four per year.

She pointed to mental health issues that are combined with drug abuse and said the three inmates involved in the six most recent incidents are new to the jail.

One has since been sent to Western State Hospital for an evaluation. All three are facing charges, she said.

Peterson did not identify the inmates.

She said typically staff can see signs that an inmate is frustrated and could be aggressive, but the recent attacks seemed to come out of nowhere.

Here are descriptions of the six attacks in one week.

On Aug. 18, an inmate attacked a deputy when lunch was being offered to the inmate.

On Aug. 22, an inmate attempted to avoid being placed into a holding cell and when the deputy attempted to escort the inmate to the cell, the inmate bolted, slipped and fell. The deputy attempted to help the inmate up off the floor when the inmate slapped the deputy across the face.

On Aug. 23, an inmate was causing a disturbance in a housing unit and when the deputy attempted to place the inmate into the inner cell, the inmate hit the deputy in the chest with both hands.

That same day an inmate attacked a counselor during a private interview with the inmate causing injury to the counselor. The counselor was discussing possible housing and medication.

Peterson said this incident led to a change in policy. Until recently counselors had been able to meet with inmates — even those in administrative segregation — without any barriers between them and the inmate.

“We used to let the individual make the decision whether they wanted to see the person face-to-face,” she said. “He felt safe talking to this particular inmate because he has talked with him several times. For some unknown reason the inmate went off and attacked him.”

Now there will be glass between counselors and inmates who have been placed in administrative segregation.

On Aug. 24, an inmate tried to run from a holding cell when lunch was being offered. The deputy attempted to stop the inmate by grabbing the person by the arm. The inmate turned around grabbed the deputy by the arm and dug fingernails into the arm of the deputy and then slapped the deputy across the face.

On Aug. 25, an inmate attempted to attack another inmate that was being escorted to his cell by two deputies. The deputies stepped in front of the inmate to protect him from the attack, when the attacking inmate assaulted one of the deputies with a closed fist.

Peterson said no other policies have been changed following the attacks, other than the one pertaining to counselors.

She said overall the injuries that jail staff sustained were minor. The counselor, who was punched more than 15 time’s had an evaluation.

“The officers are responding exactly as they should,” she said. “It’s just unexpected, the attacks that have happened.”

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.

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