Thursday, June 30, 2011

No Rooms Left in Prisons for Dozens Arrested on Drug Charges in Elliott County, Kentucky


Sheriff Jim Stevens tells the round-up began on Friday and continued into Tuesday.

SANDY HOOK, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Despite all of the drug arrests in Elliott County, they actually have become something of a back burner issue.

The bigger question now is where to put all of the prisoners. Elliott County has worn out its welcome at local detention centers.

That happened in a hurry when Elliott County stopped paying its bills to those jails. But, while the sheriff's department and county administrators debate where the money went, the safety of those who live there now hangs in the balance.

For four days, it's been a constant parade of people in handcuffs at the Elliott County Sheriff's Department, with more than 30 arrested on drug charges.

“We worked 17 straight hours Friday,” Sheriff Jim Stephens said.

But, while the standard procedure is to haul these folks off to jail, the Big Sandy and Carter County Detention Centers have refused to take any more offenders from Elliott County.

“They had not paid the jail bill," Stephens said. "Yesterday, we took 12 prisoners, and they told us to not bring no more. Had 'em calling last night wantin' to turn themselves in. Told 'em they'd just have wait until we could find somewhere to take 'em."

“Really? So, here you've got these criminals and you can't even put 'em behind bars?”'s Carrie Cline asked.

“Can't even arrest them,” Stephens said.

The sheriff says more than enough was budgeted at the beginning of the year to cover the jail costs, but the county treasurer says otherwise.

“We just did not budget enough money to cover our jail bills this year,” Elliott County Treasurer Heather Stevens said.

“So, you spent over $60,000 more that what was already budgeted?” Cline asked.

“Yeah,” Stevens said.

That's just the start of the problem. Stephens’ department budget has also been zeroed. That means he had to lay off his only deputy and the secretary. But, she's working anyway -- for free.

“He can't do this by himself. So, what little I can do to help him, I'll do,” said Pam Hutchinson, the Sheriff’s Department secretary.

She's not alone. Stephens says he hasn't received a paycheck since January and isn't even receiving gas money for his patrol car.

“I've been going seven days a week 24 hours a day,” Stephens said.
He says his saving grace has been the one Kentucky State Police trooper responsible for covering two counties. Trooper Royce Collett has even given the sheriff a lift as he helps him round up the offenders.

“Their concerns and ours are the same, and that's the safety of the citizens of Elliott County,” Collett said.

“We need money to get some more help in here to get rid of this drug problem. If we don't get help, we're not going to be able to control the drug problem,” Stephens said.

The treasurer says the sheriff isn't getting paid because he hasn't taken in enough taxes yet. Usually, the county can cover his paycheck until collection time.

Given their budget restraints, though, they can no longer do that. However, there are other options the sheriff can pursue to get paid, but he has not chosen to do so.

The county also has considered a 1 percent occupation tax to make up the shortfall, but so far that’s been rejected by county administrators.

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