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Jail's top official relieved of duties

Jail
Feb. 05, 2013 @ 12:03 AM

BARBOURSVILLE -- The executive director of the state's regional jail system is optimistic a change in leadership means a new era for the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville.

Executive Director Joe Delong made the switch Monday, replacing jail administrator Mike Clark with the division's training director, Ron Casto. Casto will temporarily leave his post at the division's training academy in Glenville, W.Va., to serve Western Regional in an acting role until state officials complete a search for a permanent replacement.

Clark, summoned to Charleston last week while on vacation, said Delong presented him a letter Monday stating he was "relieved of (his) duties." Delong declined comment, saying Clark's departure was a personnel issue.

The switch comes amid significant staff turnover at the Barboursville facility, where an investigation regarding two abuse cases in late 2012 led to the discipline of 11 correctional officers. Most were terminated or resigned.

Delong did not link those incidents with Clark's departure, but said the investigations revealed challenges at Western Regional involving its overall environment.

Since November, Delong said he has "been very clear" in expressing concern with some activities at the facility. That is when he told lawmakers his agency was investigating the possible existence of a "buddy system" among guards, which might have led to a culture of "see nothing, hear nothing, record nothing."

"For me to sit here and say I have no worries or no concerns at Western Regional Jail, would be disingenuous," Delong said Monday. "(Those activities) have not left me with a great comfort level with all staff involved."

The 11 officers were accused of either using excessive force against inmates or covering up the alleged abuse. One inmate received broken ribs, a collapsed lung and broken vertebrae. Four other officers were accused of taking tobacco or cell phones into secured areas, acts that are violations of policy.

Delong said Monday appropriate action has been taken against correctional officers with direct involvement, however those punishments have left colleagues to work with less support and younger, less experienced officers to fill vacancies.

Casto's expertise in training will help provide consistency in the facility's transition, Delong said. Those areas include continuity in procedure, policy and proper report writing necessary to document incidents, the reasons why they occur and resulting action.

"I think Mr. Casto will be very, very good at working with staff over there to make sure that the expectations that are put forth in a training environment will be able to be efficiently carried out in the actual environment," he said.

Delong described Clark as an "at-will employee" whom he could terminate without cause, Clark said in recounting their Monday meeting.

"I'm surprised as anyone else and suspicious of why," Clark said.

Clark said he had been instructed not to become involved with an internal investigation into the abuse allegations. He thought that was an unusual move, but said he it wasn't his decision.

In regards to Casto's expertise in report writing, Clark said he had asked a long time ago for his officers to receive additional training but received no response.

Clark, a retired lieutenant with the Cabell County Sheriff's Office, took his post at the jail in November 2009.

Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and http://facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.

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