Trio of suits against Hamilton County Sheriff allege violent attacks in jail

By: - April 21, 2022 7:00 am
(Photo from Hamilton County Sheriff Facebook page)

(Photo from Hamilton County Sheriff Facebook page)

More than a year after the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office took over a privately-run detention center, violent attacks within the facility are continuing unabated, lawsuits filed this week allege.

Three former detainees at the Silverdale Detention Center filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court against Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and county government.

In each case, the detainees contend the sheriff has done little or nothing to address the violence that preceded the county’s takeover of the detention facility in December 2020 and blame correctional officers there for putting them in harm’s way.

Christopher Lamond Bell says in his civil-rights lawsuit he was stabbed 17 times in April 2021 after jailers forced him into a cell where a throng of masked inmates were waiting to attack him as part of an initiation for new detainees.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond. (Photo: Hamilton County Sheriff)
Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond. (Photo: Hamilton County Sheriff)

Luster Dewayne Deloney says in a separate lawsuit he, too, was forced by jailers to go inside the same cell on the night of Bell’s attack. Like Bell, Deloney says inmates wearing towels around their faces to mask their identities attacked him within minutes of his placement there. He was stabbed six times, the lawsuit states.

“At some time between 11 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on the night of April 23, 2021, a number of deputies arrived to take Bell and a handful of other inmates (including Deloney) to a cell that had the notorious reputation of being a place where new inmates were ganged up on and attacked,” the lawsuits state.

“A number of inmates … with towels around their faces were ready to assault the new inmates,” the lawsuits continue. “The attack started almost immediately. After Bell and other inmates (including Deloney) were assaulted for two to three minutes, sheriff’s deputies removed the victims from the dangerous cell.”

A third Silverdale detainee, Michael Brinkley, alleges in his lawsuit that jailers in September 2021 moved him — without cause or warning — into a new cell block and left his cell door open.

“Brinkley pounded on his door to try to get the attention of three correctional officers, but they carried on about their business. Then, five inmates entered Brinkley’s cell and attacked Brinkley, stabbing him nine times – including once in the face.”

Bell and Brinkley required emergency treatment at a nearby hospital after their respective attacks. Deloney’s lawsuit does not make clear whether he received emergency medical care.

Lawsuit: County ignored security issues

The Hamilton County Commission handed over the keys to the Silverdale facility to Corrections Corporation of America in 1984, making it one of the first privately-operated local jails in the country. The company, now known as CoreCivic, is one of the largest private prison firms in the nation and operates four of them in Tennessee.

Claims of mismanagement and inmate-on-inmate violence and inmate deaths at CoreCivic facilities throughout the country and in Tennessee are widespread.

In February 2020, “security-related issues” at Silverdale prompted two U.S. District Court judges in Chattanooga to order federal detainees removed from the facility, records show.

CoreCivic, in turn, blamed the county for failing to address “significant safety and security issues,” including “faulty locking controls, broken camera systems and interior and exterior doors that do not function properly,” according to a letter the firm sent to commissioners.

The firm pulled out of its management agreement in July 2020. The sheriff’s office formally took over Silverdale five months later.

Attorney Derek Jordan, who represents the three detainees in the civil-rights litigation filed Monday, contends conditions at Silverdale have not improved with the county’s takeover. He cites as examples a gang-style assault in October 2020 that lasted “one to two hours” and left a detainee with 73 stab wounds and a March rape of another inmate.

“(Hammond and county leaders) knew of the levels of violence at the facility, but nevertheless continued to operate the facility with minimal adjustments,” Jordan wrote.

Last month, Hammond sought and received from county commissioners $6.3 million to upgrade security systems at Silverdale. He did not mention ongoing violence at the facility but instead blamed CoreCivic for what he called inadequate security technology.

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Jamie Satterfield
Jamie Satterfield

Jamie Satterfield is an investigative journalist with more than 33 years of experience, specializing in legal affairs, policing, public corruption, environmental crime and civil rights violations. Her journalism has been honored as some of the best in the nation, earning recognition from the Scripps Howard Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards, the Green Eyeshade Awards, the Tennessee Press Association, the Tennessee Managing Editors Association, the First Amendment Center and many other industry organizations. Her work has led to criminal charges against wrongdoers, changes in state law and citations in legal opinions and journals. She was married to the love of her life for 28 years and is now a widow and proud mother of two successful children of good character and work ethic.