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Investigation underway after Oklahoma inmates break out of cells, destroy jail property

OKLAHOMA CITY - Authorities are investigating after a tactical team was called on Sunday evening to the Oklahoma County Jail.

According to the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office, several inmates were able to get out of their cells on the 12th floor and destroyed surveillance cameras, sprinkler heads and ceiling tiles.

Mark Opgrande, a public information officer with the sheriff's office, said they believe it started as a fight between two inmates.

"It had to do probably with rival gangs, where one person got out of his cell. Another person got out of his cell, and they started fighting," he said. "We noticed it on the camera system, we were able to call for the detention supervisor at the time, the floor supervisor. He came up there, he went in with another detention officer. Immediately, when he walked up, you can see three of those inmates basically charge them as they came in."

Opgrande said the inmates involved are considered high profile with serious charges against them.

"Maybe they’ve shown in the past that they can’t get along with other inmates," he said. "Maybe they have separation orders, which means, for whatever reason, there are other inmates that are after them."

As of Monday, names of the inmates initially involved have not been released. Authorities are also still working to determine exactly how many inmates were able to get out of their cells.

However, we're told charges are possible. Video captured before cameras were knocked down will be released to the office of Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.

"He’s (Prater) requested a copy to take a look at it, as well. Our investigators are looking at it, and we’ll all sit down together and take a look and decide what charges would be warranted in this situation," Opgrande said.

Opgrande said there have been hundreds of noteworthy incidents at the jail this year, including 163 cases of assaults on staff and 314 cases that called for the use of force.

District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan said the problems at the jail far exceed flawed designs with cell door locks.

The jail was built in the 1990's and houses inmates on seven floors.

"There’s some plumbing issues. The plumbing was put, a lot of it, underground, which means it has to come up to street level to drain. That means the laundry in the kitchen, for instance, are in the basement," Maughan said. "It was allowable during the time it opened, which is what’s frustrating. It’s kind of been a moving target and, then, later, the standards have changed."

Maughan said locks in particular are a complex fix, with money being the chief obstacle.

"It’s about $775,000 to fix the locks on two floors. That’s the best estimate we’ve been given, so it’s obviously very cost prohibitive to comprehensively. Plus, the inmates need to be out of those cells, which we currently need for occupancy levels to fix the locks," he said.

A possibly cheaper alternative being looked at right now are the building of a new annex of satellite facility to help with inmate population and safety.

"If they’ve engineered something to malfunction the locks, that’s going to be a problem no matter what, but the number of inmates we have in there could be possibly reduced if we had a better place to spread them out," he told News 4. "It still would require a funding source, which means we’d have to go to the taxpayers and ask them for some sort of vote of approval, but that would be cheaper than a top to bottom brand new jail."

No staff members were hurt during Sunday's incident. One inmate was taken to the hospital out of precaution.