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An Oklahoma sheriff and most of her staff abruptly quit over dangerous jail conditions


'This is just wrong'

Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett. (KJRH-TV video screenshot)

Nowata County Sheriff Terry Sue Barnett resigned Monday, along with most of her deputies and staff, in protest of conditions at the county's jail that they say endanger the lives of both employees and inmates, according to NBC News.

Barnett had been ordered to reopen the jail by Nowata District Judge Carl Gibson, after Barnett evacuated it because of allegedly dangerous levels of carbon monoxide that sent some workers to the emergency room. Barnett quit rather than reopen the jail.

"I've said from the beginning that if I became sheriff, I would serve the citizens by standing up and doing the right things," Barnett said in a statement. "This is just wrong, and I wasn't going to put human beings in that jail until we knew what was going on."

What happened?

On Feb. 28, Barnett evacuated her staff and all inmates from the Nowata County jail after a carbon monoxide level of 18 was detected—dangerously close to a level of 20 which Barnett said could be fatal.

The inmates were relocated to Washington County jail. Barnett said four employees had to go to the emergency room due to the carbon monoxide exposure.

Barnett said carbon monoxide isn't the only problem in Nowata County Jail. There are also exposed wires in the shower areas and mold in the jail and the jail's offices. Poor plumbing also causes methane gas leaks within the jail, said Barnett.

"The Nowata County Jail is a ticking time bomb of constitutional liability," said Paul DeMuro, Barnett's attorney. "If the county thinks it has budget problems now, it better wake up because somebody is going to die in that jail.

What now?

There are five employees left on staff with the Nowata County Sheriff's Office. Dispatchers are delegating 911 calls to nearby law enforcement stations. Nowata County is a 600 square-mile area of more than 10,000 people.

Judge Gibson declared Barnett's resignation void in court Tuesday, but Barnett maintains that the judge does not have the ability to order Barnett to work once she has submitted her resignation.

"I do not work for the judge," Barnett said.

Nowata County Sheriff resigns after judge orders jail back open www.youtube.com

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