News 4 Exclusive: “It was a disaster from day one,” Inside the growing problems at the Oklahoma County Jail 

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma County Sheriff is now speaking out about repeated allegations of mismanagement at the county jail and is addressing some of the problems the jail has faced for years.

Never before seen video obtained by News 4 is giving us a look inside the Oklahoma County Jail after hours when inmates are supposed to be locked in their cells. The video shows inmates breaking out of their cells fighting each other and in some cases, brutally beating the detention officers.

In one case, a female officer is yanked by her hair and assaulted. She’s one of more than 250 staff members who were assaulted by inmates last year.

"You've got a situation with some cheap locks that these inmates can circumvent. Styrofoam cups and toothpaste or anything else they can get their hands on, they circumvent these locks,” Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor told News 4.

Using those miscellaneous items, Sheriff Taylor said inmates have found ways to manipulate the locking system. They have added a box-like bar above the locks on the doors to try and keep it from happening, but it still does.

"We found a company that created and patented a lock eight years ago that, in eight years, hasn't been circumvented by an inmate and are they expensive, yeah, but you pay for what you get,” Sheriff Taylor said.

However, the county commissioners want the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office (OSCO) to look for a cheaper option because to put those locks, that include alarm systems, on each of the 1,200 jail cells would cost about $1 million dollars.

"Now, we're running into an issue of, 'well, you need to go look at other locks and you need to find cheaper locks,' and it's kind of a stall factor,” Sheriff Taylor said.

The issue with the locks is among many things on a long list of major problems at the jail. Sheriff Taylor said the building has always been a thorn in the county’s side ever since it opened in 1991, earning it the nickname ‘The Money Pit.’

"There was no thought. There was no planning to have a funding source to operate this jail,” Taylor said. "The people that built it had never built a jail.”

For example, the jail’s medical and mental health professionals are forced to use jail cells to treat patients.

The plumbing design also allows contraband to be passed from floor to floor.

On top of that, the jail’s only three elevators are constantly broken and the computer system is more than 20 years old.

"It was a disaster from day one. It doesn't matter who the sheriff is,” Taylor said.

Sheriff Taylor is determined to turn things around at the jail.

However, Taylor has been dealing with allegations of mismanagement at the jail.

“What more evidence do we need that there are serious problems with the sheriff’s offices operations of the jail?” Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey told News 4 earlier this month.

Commissioner Calvey has repeatedly pointed fingers at Sheriff Taylor, blaming his office for the mess at the jail.

“Look this is just a management thing, not a money thing,” Calvey said. "We need more oversight at the sheriff’s office and how that jail is run. It is not being managed well.”

After several allegations of mismanagement, Sheriff Taylor is now firing back.

"He just throws out stuff and most of it is not the truth. I mean, it's almost like a man that is just slinging stuff on the wall and hope that some of it sticks. He operates by surprise, shock,” Taylor said.

Taylor told News 4 he’s asked Commissioner Calvey to meet up to discuss their differences and figure out how they can work together. Each invitation, Calvey has declined.

When we reached out to Calvey to ask why, he wanted to know what needs to be said in private that can’t be said in public.

In response to that question, Sheriff Taylor sent News 4 this statement:

“The fact that he refuses to meet with our office shows he has no interest in working together to find solutions that benefit the citizens of this county. Mr. Calvey has no interest in being a county commissioner. We understand he is planning on running for US Congress. He continues to pedal non-factual information in an attempt to assign blame and point fingers instead of working with us to find solutions. We can only assume the continued manufacturing of drama is an attempt to remain relevant in a potential run for higher office.”

Commissioner Calvey fired back with this statement,

“I will gladly meet with Sheriff Taylor, one-on-one, in the County’s public meeting room with our discussion being live-streamed. The mismanagement is not just about money — dozens of inmates have died. The seriousness of this situation calls for a public discussion. The voters are demanding transparency and I will see that they get it. I await Sheriff Taylor's response to my invitation.”

In response to that, Sheriff Taylor declined. He said he has invited Commissioner Calvey to meetings to discuss the issues at the jail and how they can try and work together several times, with no response in agreement from Calvey.

"You've got to work together or we're all going to go down the tubes and Commissioner Calvey has not shown any sign of being fair, reasonable or wanting to work together,” Sheriff Taylor said.

While Calvey claims the mess at the jail is due to mismanagement, Sheriff Taylor said it’s a lack of funding.

His yearly budget for the OCSO is $37,617,509. It’s a jarring number when compared to Tulsa County’s budget of $48,814,830.

Taylor said a big part of the problem is 76 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are partially funded by a sales tax, of some sort.

As for the state’s largest county though, those tax dollars don’t exist.

The sheriff told News 4 by July 1, they'll only have $400,000 left in the bank.

The lack of funding stretches beyond the crumbling jail.

“It's a horrific problem to try to operate this jail,” Sheriff Taylor said. "When 50% of your workforce in the jail turns over every year, can you imagine running a private sector company with 50% of your employees turning over? I've lost 60 deputies in the last 13 months and they all loved working here.”

The problem is Oklahoma County just can’t compete. For example, Tulsa County pays some of their detention officers almost double what they make here.

"The county forces me to pay most of my salaries and benefits out of special revenue funds, which is funds that come in and you have no idea what you're going to get,” Taylor said.

So the question is, what can be done to fix this long list of problems?

"The best way to bring additional funding in is a countywide sales tax,” Taylor said.

All of the county commissioners have said they’d be open to discussions about a sales tax.

Sheriff Taylor is feeling frustrated and discouraged, but not giving up his fight to one day find a permanent solution to the endless list of problem that are almost 30 years in the making.

"The sad thing to me is all you hear about is the jail, you know, and it's always negative stories. These employees are working their tails off and they put their life on the line for virtually nothing,” Sheriff Taylor said.

The county is currently looking at new computer systems for the jail and they also have a big plumbing project coming up.

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