Injuries to jail deputy in attack show risks

A riot at the Richmond County jail on Feb. 5 sent six sheriff's deputies to the hospital.

When a Richmond County jail deputy was attacked by an inmate Monday, her only defense was her fists and a reliance on other deputies nearby.

The cut to the deputy's head and her swollen face highlight the danger faced daily when working unarmed in the Richmond County Jail.

Sheriff Ronnie Strength's administration has considered arming its deputies in the past, but is reluctant to place weapons such as stun guns and pepper spray in the jail. The fear is that the weapon could be snatched from a deputy in a fight and used on the person it's supposed to protect, said sheriff's Maj. Gene Johnson, who oversees the jails on Walton Way and Phinizy Road.

"If we have a problem we try to handle it with man force," Johnson said, adding that there are riot batons stashed away in case of a major uproar.

A case in point was a riot in the jail on Feb. 5, which involved all 31 inmates in a cell block and sent six deputies to the hospital. One jailer was stabbed with a pencil and three deputies suffered broken bones. It started when deputies tried to break up a gambling game, investigators say.

Eight inmates were recently indicted in connection with the incident on charges including rioting in a penal institute, obstruction of a law enforcement officer and 10 counts of aggravated assault for the deputies injured.

The fear of incidentally arming inmates is apparently shared by the Georgia Department of Corrections, which does not provide weapons to its corrections officers, according to a spokeswoman.

Columbia County jailer deputies carry pepper spray, said Capt. Steve Morris, spokesman.

Johnson said recently arrested people are usually the most rowdy, especially if they're still high on drugs or drunk. But there's not much trouble at the jail, he said. If there is, "we put it down pretty quick," Johnson said.