The Coffee County Sheriff Department’s investigation concerning an inmate being left outside overnight at the Justice Center has resulted in four officers facing disciplinary action.

“This was a complete failure and breakdown in our system,” Coffee County Sheriff Chad Partin said during a press conference Thursday afternoon, Feb. 14. “Fortunately the inmate was not a violent inmate.”

Coffee County inmate Carl Dalton Williams, 33, was discovered early Friday, Feb. 8, near the gazebo outside the justice center building.

One transport officer responsible for clearing the area where Williams was being held will receive three days suspension without pay for failure to perform his duties and negligence that allowed a prisoner to escape.

Additionally, those tasked with counts at the jail will receive reprimands. One officer will receive a write up in their file and an additional six months on probation, one correction officer will receive a write up and verbal counseling and a third officer will receive two days suspension without pay and a written reprimand. Partin said all the disciplinary actions are within department policy.

Partin said, per the investigation, the transportation officer failed to fully clear a holding cell in which the inmate was being housed, where Williams had pressed himself into a blind corner in an adjacent bathroom. 

“He did not clear that holding cell by physically walking in and clear that cell. The inmate remained quiet in the holding cell bathroom,” Partin said. “It was then assumed all the inmates were present and accounted for.”

The holding cell was then left unlocked. Partin said it is common for empty holding cells to be left open.

A headcount at the jail showed the inmate unaccounted for. A total of three corrections officers made an additional count at the jail, with the same results.

 “No further notification was done,” Partin said.


Timeline of events

At 4 p.m., Feb. 7 General Sessions Court concluded on the first floor of the Justice Center.

Two transport officers took seven inmates to the jail following court. Multiple headcounts were made, all noting Williams was absent.

No action was taken concerning the missing inmate, nor were supervisors notified.

At approximately 5:45 a.m., Feb 8, the Williams was found outside the Justice Center. He was then transported back to the jail where he was checked out by medical staff, and the administration was also notified.

At 6:45 a.m. on Feb. 8, the county internal affairs investigator was notified. An immediate investigation was begun, while administration alerted local media and the public of what had happened.

The investigation continued for the next week until the results were disclosed at a press conference held Thursday at the Sheriff’s Department Headquarters.


Corrective action

Partin said as a result of the oversights, several updated standard procedures will be implemented on how the department tracks inmates.

“A new tracking sheet has been developed and is being used for the transportation and movement of inmates,” Partin said.

According to the sheriff, the department is looking at purchasing a barcode system similar to the one hospitals use to track patients to log the movements of inmates within the jail and to various medical appointments and court appearances.

“If hospitals can keep up with their patients then this facility should be able to keep up with our inmates. We are hoping to stop the breakdown that resulted in that inmate being left up there,” Partin said.

A meeting to address standard operating procedures for Justice Center transportation and security was planned for the Friday that Williams was found outside the Justice Center.

Disciplinary action was taken concerning the officers involved.

“This administration takes this very serious. Courthouse security is very serious.”

Partin said that security upgrades are being made at the Justice Center, but admitted that difficult matters there remain.


Details on the inmate emerge

According to Partin, Williams was in court on domestic violence charges stemming from an altercation between Williams and his mother.

“He had gotten into a verbal argument with his parents over a pack of cigarettes and had knocked a cigarette out of his mother’s mouth. There may have been hands laid on the mother, but nobody was physically assaulted,” Partin said.

Partin added Williams had been acting “clownish” at court that day and concluded the escape was a prank.

“It does not matter. All inmates must be accounted for, regardless of the seriousness of their charges. All that can do is say I’m sorry that this incident took place,” Partin said.