Jail violence becomes campaign issue

The Piatt County Sheriff’s race took to social media last week, with challenger Kyle Turngren accusing incumbent Republican David Hunt of not being transparent about violence at the Piatt County Jail when it housed Cook County inmates from 2012 to 2016.

Hunt returned fire by saying Turngren – a current guard at the jail – could have avoided violence by walking away from a situation that resulted in injuries to his Republican challenger.

Claiming there were about 80 incidents in the four years the jail hosted the out-of-county inmates, Turngren said he received lacerations on his chest and neck from an inmate in 2015, and that it was not the only time serious fights took place.

“There were incidents that were felonies, these people should have been charged,” he said. “We had six all-officer calls that would bring in state troopers, Bement officers, Monticello officers. That meant a lot of trips to the ER.”

Hunt responded that during the incident in question the inmate backed off when another officer pulled a Taser.

“The inmate retreated once a Taser was pointed at him. All Mr. Turngren had to do was shut the cell door and it would have been over,” said Hunt, Piatt County’s Sheriff for the past six years.

The prisoner, Wilfred McClendon, sued Turngren. The case was settled with a $7,000 payment to McClendon, whom Turngren said had been in other fights at the jail.

“I was not disciplined for my actions on that day, I was not criminally charged for my actions,” said Turngren.

Turngren added he has never been disciplined for his Taser use or excessive force in nine years at the Sheriff’s Department. Hunt agreed, but said Turngren was “counseled” after the McClendon incident and that he has “a number of disciplinary actions in his file.”

Piatt County had a contract with Cook County Corrections to house some of its inmates from 2012 until April of 2016.

The county received $50 per day per prisoner, which at one point pushed about $360,000 annually into county coffers. When that number dropped to an estimated rate of about $100,000 per year, Hunt pulled the plug.

The jail, constructed in 2004, is rated for 76 inmates. It now helps house some of DeWitt County’s detainees.

Turngren also called Hunt out on his Facebook site for transferring a pregnant street deputy who asked for lighter duty to the master control center at the jail and cutting her pay.

“She had no choice,” he said, claiming the move was contrary to state and federal employment laws.

Hunt said the request for lighter duty came from the employee, and that she agreed to the transfer that was mediated by union officials for both sides. He said the smaller size of the Piatt County Sheriff’s Department does not provide enough desk-based work for all who need light duty.




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