“We had some officers that were participating in what I would call horseplay,” said Sheriff Chip Hall.
Shawn Solitis, 43, had worked for the sheriff’s office just shy of six months when he was fired July 9. He wasn’t certified to use a Taser or a firearm on the job and hadn’t yet started the five-week detention officer certification course the state requires all officers to finish within a year of hire.
The coworker wasn’t injured in the incident, Hall said, and she did not seek medical attention afterward. All the same, he made it clear that he would not tolerate that type of behavior in his department.
“I was disappointed in their actions,” Hall said. “That’s something I want to reassure the citizens, that type of behavior I’m not going to stand for.”
Taser guns are often used by law enforcement in lieu of firearms to stop aggressive behavior, but they are not without risk. According to a 2012 report from Amnesty International, 500 people in the United States died after being shocked with Tasers during arrest or while in jail between February of that year and 2001.
Hall took office in December following the retirement of Jimmy Ashe, who had been sheriff since 2002. His adminstration had been heavily criticized, and when voters awarded Hall the job, the new sheriff had his work cut out for him. A suicide happened in the county jail just days before Hall took office, with a second one occurring in March, four months after he was sworn in. The incidents triggered state investigations from the Department of Health and Human Services and State Bureau of Investigations, with reports now on the desk of District Attorney Ashley Welch, who is considering which, if any, charges to file.
The same two jailers were on duty during the two suicides, and Hall disciplined them with five days of unpaid leave, both men are back on the job. Hall declined to discuss the factors influencing his decision to keep Mark Leamon and Brian Wellmon on payroll while firing Solitis, citing ongoing collaboration between the SBI and the District Attorney’s Office regarding the circumstances surrounding the suicides.
“It would be premature for me to go into discussing that at this time,” Hall said.
However, he said things are moving forward in the Sheriff’s Department. This spring, he hired veteran law enforcement officer John Buchanan as the department’s jail captain, a new position designed to oversee jail operations and develop needed policies and procedures.
That’s been going well, he said. Buchanan is working with the department’s legal services to write a new policy and procedure manual that’s better tailored to Jackson County’s needs. Construction has begun to improve security at the courthouse. New trainings regarding mental health and detoxification are being developed. Hall said he’s meeting with county commissioners at their Aug. 18 work session to propose new medical and mental health services at the jail.
“We’re making progress. We’re moving forward,” he said. “The captain’s in place and we’re making progress on our courthouse security. I’ve got a lot of officers that’s working hard and doing good out here in the community.”