CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Several correctional officers at Western Regional Jail are on suspension over allegations they severely injured an inmate, and one state official is concerned that a "buddy system" among guards is keeping other misconduct from being punished.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the state Regional Jail Authority, promised "swift action" on the allegations in front of a legislative panel in Charleston Monday. He expects some people will lose their jobs for helping to cover up wrongdoing.
During his monthly presentation before the Legislature's interim Regional Jail Oversight Committee, DeLong was asked what led to a large number of suspensions at the Western Regional Jail.
Of the approximately 20 corrections officers currently on suspension, DeLong said 15 worked at Western.
Four were caught with some type of contraband in their possession, and DeLong said officials were investigating whether the officers were trying to sell to inmates.
The others are accused of using excessive force on inmates. One prisoner still is recovering from broken ribs, a collapsed lung and broken vertebrae, DeLong said.
"A large majority of those folks are tied to use of force issues where some level of significant bodily harm happened as a result," DeLong told lawmakers.
DeLong did not provide the names of the inmates or the officers involved.
But DeLong's bigger concern is that correctional officers seem to be covering up the misdeeds of their coworkers.
"I have a greater concern about the buddy system at Western Regional Jail of 'see nothing, hear nothing, record nothing,' than I do a rash of instances," DeLong said.
"I suspect that there may be people in the end of this that I recommend for termination that ultimately may not be part of the act, but lied and withheld information during the investigation - which to me is just as troubling as the act itself," he said.
In one excessive force incident, an officer gave an initial statement he was unaware of any wrongdoing, DeLong said.
DeLong confronted the officer again after officials received additional information indicating he knew more than he said.
"I talked to him myself and simply asked him, 'Do you have children?'" DeLong said. "He said, 'Sure,' and I said, 'When did you decide to choose your buddies over them?'
"And at that point he said he did in fact witness it," DeLong said.
DeLong said State Police conducted interviews last week. He hoped to have a report back by early next week.
Once the report comes back, DeLong told lawmakers the authority will move quickly on its findings.