Crawford County Sheriff Ron Brown has announced the arrest of five inmates in connection with a riot at the detention center on Friday, March 8.
Brown, during a press conference held Wednesday, said the five individuals are Joshua Estes, Dylan Flurry, Steve Huffstetler, Taylor Johnson and James Thompson.
“We have arrested five individuals that we can clearly see were involved in this incident through video and deputies’ testimony,” said Brown. “They’ve been charged with a Class D felony of inciting a riot.”
The arrests came after officials reviewed surveillance video and information gathered from the body cameras of the deputies, as well as statements of the deputies, a process which began on Monday.
The riot began at approximately 7 p.m. on Friday in the pod in which these inmates were being held. The damage included broken ceiling tiles, lights and a sprinkler head, resulting in flooding throughout the majority of the jail.
“We actually had water in up to six cell blocks, anywhere from two inches to half an inch,” Brown said. “The sprinkler head was replaced that night. We keep those on hand even though that’s a specialty-type item. That was repaired that evening and we were able to turn the sprinkler system back on.
“Throughout the jail, maybe every 10 feet, there is a floor drain and the drains failed,” he continued. “Capt. Torraca went through and applied a chemical we use on the drain problems and once we applied that we had some water draining out.”
Brown said the damage, which was originally estimated to be in the $15,000-$20,000 range, had been cleaned up by about 1 a.m. Saturday.
“We had ceiling tiles hanging down caused by an inmate throwing his food tray into the ceiling,” said Brown. “There was a lot of water damage and mattress damage and we have repaired almost all of that. We’re still having some trouble with some of our IT stuff but we have those folks called in.”
He added, “We’re very fortunate that there weren’t more mattresses destroyed. We only lost about 16 of those. Also the lights and ceiling tiles that had to be replaced … we had material and supplies on hand from the construction so we’re just out labor and I don’t have those costs at this time.”
The staff was able to pull materials left over from construction of the jail to replace and repair damaged material.
“When construction was completed all the leftover material was given to us and was put in storage,” said Brown. “Due to a good jail administrator (Capt. Halbert Torraca) we were able to go through that material and the lights that were destroyed were replaced by material already on hand. We did have to bring in an electrician, plumber, IT person and heating and air person to make some repairs.”
Brown said the incident is classified as a riot even though there was no fighting between inmates or attempts to take over the facility.
“It was just devastation and destruction to the pod,” said Brown.
Brown said he wanted to reassure citizens living in the area of the jail there was not attempt at escape and, even if there was, it would be very hard for an escape attempt to be successful.
“In this particular pod they would have had to go through five secured doors that are controlled before they could even have gotten to the outside,” he said. “They never attempted to try to break free. This was strictly just destruction, chaos and diversion for jail staff.”
It started when deputies attempted to extract Estes from the pod, which contained 40 inmates. Estes, an Arkansas Department of Corrections committed inmate, was being held in Crawford County for a court appearance. After discussing a disciplinary matter with him in the hallway, he was instructed to go back into the pod and collect his personal items. When he refused, he was being relocated to an isolation cell. He resisted and, while being walked down the hall, yelled to inmates in a neighboring pod to, in Brown’s words, “pop it off,” meaning to begin the riot.
Brown said it was the beginning of a premeditated plot.
“Simultaneously three of the cameras that are inside that pod were blocked by toilet paper,” said Brown. “If you watch (the tape) closely, you can see as the deputies are talking to (Estes) that the other inmates are preparing for something. It’s our perception that they were preparing for something anyway. We had been changing some rules and moving them around because we had so many inmates of that classification and we felt the way this went down they had something planned anyway. It was well organized. Once he gave the command they started this.”
Video also shows Estes doing what Brown called “talking through the walls,” where he was speaking to inmates in the neighboring pod.
Tapes also showed at least three inmates taking rolls of toilet paper to the sinks and going to surveillance cameras in three different locations, then throwing the wet rolls at the cameras to cover them up.
Brown also said many of the inmates used T-shirts and towels to cover their heads and faces.
“We could sit there and say at the initial incident they were concealing their identity, but I really believe at this point they were preparing for us to deploy tear gas,” he said. “It’s like the mattresses. In the initial part the mattresses had been moved, like they were going to use them as a barricade when, in reality, I think they knew there was going to be a sprinkler popped off and they were trying to save their personal property.”
Once officers were in place to enter the pod, the water was turned off and entry was made by the officers, including officers from various local departments. A K-9 unit led the group into the pod.
“They surrendered as soon as we opened the door, which is normal,” said Brown. “There were no confrontations, no deputies hurt, no law enforcement officers hurt, no inmates injured.”
Brown said while incidents involving inmates aren’t unusual, events like this one are uncommon.
“We have fights weekly,” he said. “It’s like a neighborhood. Sometimes neighbors don’t like neighbors. This is the first one in this facility of this magnitude and it was strictly for destruction and chaos and distraction.”
The five inmates appeared in court Wednesday. Normally after a court appearance inmates stay at the jail for several days before being transported back to the department of corrections. This time, however, Estes went back the same day while the other four stayed, but without the normal privileges.
Brown called Huffstetler “the main player in doing destruction to the ceilings” and said Thompson was charged “because he was encouraging Huffstetler’s actions,” an action that falls under the charge of inciting a riot.
“We don’t feel the public was ever in danger,” said the sheriff. “We had it controlled. This wasn’t a riot to escape and it wasn’t inmate on inmate. It was strictly to destroy, devastate and distract the staff.”