by SEAN BATURA
Days after Sheriff Gary Cutler took office last November, his chief deputy said he found the jail in a “state of squalor” so bad that inmates in one cell block had taken to wearing bandannas over their mouths to ward off an infestation of tiny flies.
Vines overgrew fences and outdoor lights didn’t work. Maggots thrived in flooded utility corridors that run between walls where “stale air [was] so tepid that it made me want to wretch,” Chief Deputy Jamie Page wrote in a February memorandum justifying the demotion of former jail Capt. Richard “Dickey” Haverda.
“You should be aware that I have no confidence in you as a leader, manager, or an employee who has the responsibilities to lead and motivate others,” Page wrote Haverda. “To retain you in your current leadership position would be negligence…it is no longer mutually beneficial for our agency to allow you to serve in a command position.”
Page’s description of the jail, obtained by the Mercury under the Texas Public Information Act, marks the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Hays County jail, which the Texas Commission on Jail Standards came close to shuttering in 2009 for health and safety violations, including a leaky roof and mold in the kitchen. The county spent $1.7 million to replace the roof and repair the kitchen as well as study whether the whole facility needs to be abandoned.
The jail woes became a central issue in Cutler’s campaign against former Sheriff Ratliff, who was defeated last November. The way things are going, it promises to be a central issue in 2012 when Ratliff has said he will seek to regain his old office.
Haverda sued Cutler and Hays County in federal court in September, claiming he was demoted for openly supporting Ratliff in the election. His lawsuit says he was made a scapegoat for earlier problems at the jail even though his immediate supervisor, then-Maj. Brad Robinson, and a maintenance supervisor, had more to do with the jail’s condition than he did. Haverda’s position was posted as available on the county’s job website within a week of Cutler becoming sheriff.
Haverda, through his attorney, declined to comment on Page’s memo.
Ratliff noted that the jail passed a state inspection in mid-September 2010, roughly a month before Page worked a night shift at the jail and said he observed the “filthy” conditions. He said he took Cutler and Page on a tour of the jail just before leaving office and that they were complimentary of the facility.
“All they did was talk about how clean it was and how well it smelled, and how impressed they were with the way the jail looked and the way that the jail was taken care of, and it was not what they expected,” Ratliff said. “For him to make these comments to me about how great the jail is…and within just a matter of a few weeks say just opposite is just not acceptable, in my opinion.”
Frederick St. Amant, a state jail inspector, said he did indeed see standing water in pipe chases during his September 2010 inspection but that conditions had improved so much since 2009 that he did not note it in his inspection report.
“I didn’t see anything as bad as the chief saw. You could smell water, but at that point in time — the jail really got tagged really hard in ‘09. So when we saw that they were trying their best to make improvements, in this matter, yeah, it could have been written up as a deficiency, but since they were making an effort at that point in time, we just decided to go ahead and provided technical assistance and to make sure that it didn’t happen (again). Now, if it would have happened again when I came through this year, we would have wrote it up,” Amant said.
When he inspected the jail last month, “the jail was the cleanest I’ve seen it in my previous three inspections,” St. Amant said. “And they’re continually striving to make it better.”