Cheatham County officials are searching for solutions to overcrowding and violence inside the jail after more than 50 inmates engaged in a violent fight early Tuesday morning.
Sheriff Mike Breedlove said overcrowding in the facility is creating conditions that put inmates and corrections officers in serious danger.
He said it’s so overcrowded that tension has boiled over in the past when someone did something as simple as shut off the TV at 11 p.m., the time the jailhouse TV is always shut down — but the sheriff says that was just the spark of a much bigger problem.
“It is more than that,“ he said. “It’s the tension of being so crazily overcrowded in our jail.“
What started this particular fight on Tuesday?
According to the Cheatham Co. Sheriff’s Office, a shirtless inmate from Pod C broke through a barrier into Pod D around 3 a.m. on Tuesday.
Suddenly, there are 53 men in the confined space where groups began fighting with each other. As more men join in on the fight, the situation quickly deteriorates into mob rule.
“There’s a walk-through door and it was locked, and they were able to breach it by beating on it for a while,“ Breedlove explained.
The fight, caught on camera, starts on the stairs where the shirtless murder suspect starts to fight a family member of the person he’s accused of killing.
“We purposely kept them apart for obvious reasons because there have been threats,“ he said. “That barrier disappeared when the inmates rammed the door open.“
That feud travels up the stairs and explodes into a full-scale melee. Fights break out everywhere.
At this moment, in the wee hours of the morning, there are only two corrections officers on the scene — both are armed with tasers, but never use them.
“He has taser pulled — no way he can use it,“ explained Sheriff Mike Breedlove, watching the surveillance footage with News 2′s Andy Cordan. “There are so many other people. The officers are overwhelmed trying to get control. The inmates did grab one of the portable radios.“
The fight intensifies with more sucker-punches delivered in the corner.
While all this is happening, another inmate gets on the table and pulls himself to the second level of the compound. He sneaks up on another prisoner and puts him in a chokehold.
Corrections officers attempt to stop the attack.
“Right now, we cannot sustain the amount of inmates we have and the amount of people being sent to jail,“ Breedlove said.
Next, watch as multiple inmates stomp and kick the man on the ground.
“This looks so dangerous, and how dangerous for these two gentlemen,“ Breedlove commented. “They are doing everything they can to quell, to get everyone to go back into their dorm.“
Later in the craziness, the man leaps from the second floor to a metal table below. It takes several minutes for more help to arrive. According to the sheriff, it took nearly half an hour for 20 deputies and Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to secure the facility.
According to Breedlove, part of the problem is the age of the jail — it’s 32 years old and was only designed to hold 116 inmates.
On the morning of the fight, officials said there were 192 inmates in the jail — 76 people over capacity.
“[The jail is] not built for this, and we are having a lot of issues right now — we are in dire straits,“ Breedlove said.
When all is said and done, several prisoners and corrections officers were taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. The sheriff acknowledges the fact that nobody was seriously injured is lucky — luck they can’t count on to continue.
“It’s lucky no one died here,“ Breedlove said. “Absolutely, the clock is ticking, and that is our chief concern. This was such a dangerous, volatile issue.“
Six of the most violent offenders involved in the brawl were sent to the Robertson County Jail for safekeeping at the expense of Cheatham Co. taxpayers. Each inmate costing citizens $55 per day to house out of the county.
Multiple prisoners are now being charged with additional felonies.
“This is a dire situation that is getting worse over time,“ Breedlove said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt or killed — that is our biggest fear.“
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