In a stunning victory for CLEAT and the El Paso County Sheriff's Officer's Association, CLEAT has stopped the Sheriff from privatizing jobs in the El Paso County Jails.
In September of 2015, El Paso County Sheriff, Richard Wiles, gave 16 Detention Officer jobs to non-law enforcement employees. He had plans to take away 8 more jobs from the Detention Officers. CLEAT took the case to arbitration and put a stop to the Sheriff's plans to privatize.
"These civilians had direct contact with inmates," said EPCSOA President Robert Horstman. "It was irresponsible of the Sheriff to put civilians in those positions because it jeopardized the safety of everyone involved."
"It was also a blatant violation of his contractual obligations." CLEAT lawyer, Jim Jopling said. "Sheriff Wiles was bound by contract to keep trained Detention Officers working those jobs. But he flagrantly violated that contract. He continues to demonstrate his willingness to trample on his own employees' rights, just to save a buck or two."
The relationship between Sheriff Wiles and his employees has soured since he implemented his plans to privatize parts of the jail in 2015. Numerous arbitrations are pending that involve changes at the jail.
Robert Horstman said, "Basically, the Sheriff has cut jail staff to a skeleton crew. He says that he does not favor outsourcing the jail to a private company because they are beholden to the bottom line -- not the tax payers. But he is running our jails like a private company, cutting costs at the expense of officer safety. That is a huge concern for us, given that there is a war against law enforcement taking place in our country right now."
That war appears to be happening in the El Paso County jails. One of the EPCSOA grievances alleges that a Detention Officer was assaulted by one of the jail's most violent inmates when there were not enough officers present to secure the cell block. The officer suffered a fractured arm and other injuries. He has been out of work for two months.
In August of 2014, Sheriff Wiles appeared before the Texas Jail Standards Commission and asked them for a deviation from the legal minimum number of Detention Officers. Texas law requires Sheriffs to provide no fewer than 1 guard for every 48 inmates.
"The Sheriff asked the Jail Standards Commission for permission to use one guard for every 61 inmates," said Jim Jopling. "He wanted to save money by making the Detention Officers guard more prisoners than the law deems safe."
The Jail Standards Commission denied the Sheriff's request.
"Now he is looking for other ways to do the same thing," Horstman said. "But he has gone too far. The jails are unsafe. We have identified a few instances when the jail has been staffed below the legal limit. We have filed grievances in those cases. But I can only imagine the number of times that the jail has been understaffed and we have not found out about it."
"We're seeing a pattern with this Sheriff," said Jopling. "He didn't get what he wanted from the Jail Standards Commission, but he's just doing what he wants anyway. The same thing happened with this privatizing case. He asked for the right to privatize when we bargained the contract, and he didn't get it. So he's just doing what he wants, even though it is unlawful."
The EPCSOA and CLEAT will continue to work as hard as they can to protect the rights of the Sheriff's employees to work in a jail that is safe and staffed according to the legal requirements.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) is the largest organization of law enforcement professionals in the state, with over 20,000 members. Its membership includes peace officers and detention officers working in the field and in jails all across the state of Texas. The El Paso County Sheriffs' Officer's Association (EPCSOA) is a member organization of CLEAT. It represents the interests of all El Paso County Sheriff's Deputies and Detention Officers, and has approximately 800 members.