Grainger County chief deputy authorized to act as sheriff

Grainger County chief deputy authorized to act as sheriff

Chief Deputy Charles Biddle Chief Deputy Charles Biddle
Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher
Grainger County Sheriff Scott Layel Grainger County Sheriff Scott Layel

RUTLEDGE (WATE) - District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn announced at a news conference Wednesday Grainger County Sheriff Scott Layel has authorized Chief Deputy Charles Biddle to act for him and manage day-to-day activities.

Layel signed a general order authorizing Biddle to act on his behalf Wednesday. Dunn says this will provide stability to the county.

The move came one day after the county jail was put on lockdown while the DA's office led a search of the jail for contraband and additional missing inmates.

Officials are continuing to search for three inmates who are still on the run after escaping the jail Friday night. Dennis Rucker, Shane Farrow and David Valentine are considered dangerous due to prior felony convictions. Jail officials were not aware they were missing until Sunday.

Three jail employees have been fired due to negligence: Michael Sane, Cody Wolfe and Bobby Owens. Sane was cited Sunday night for bringing contraband into the jail.

Chief Deputy Biddle says 103 inmates are currently housed in the jail, with no fewer than three jailers on duty at any given time.

Sheriff Layel was not present while Tuesday's raid was going on. He said he was searching for the missing inmates.

Layel has been the center of controversy in Grainger County for several months.

6 News looked into concerns raised by residents and county officials who said Sheriff Scott Layel wasn't showing up for work. Layel later said ongoing health issues kept him from being at work.

County Mayor Mark Hipsher says changes are underway

Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher says he's known about problems in the jail for weeks, but was still surprised about the escape. He says changes are underway to make the jail more secure.

Hipsher told 6 News Wednesday problems in the jail aren't new. He learned of inmates vandalizing the jail a few weeks ago.

"They were destroying windows that we had to replace, tearing up locks. Some of the locks were jammed, and they would tear up some of the restroom facilities," he said.

The mayor says surveillance cameras were installed to make it easier for guards to monitor the inmates.

"[We are] trying to get the guards to monitor what's going on in the jail more, so we can tell who is tearing up things and they can be charged with vandalism for destroying county property."

Despite knowing of these problems in the past, the mayor was surprised to learn three inmates escaped.

According to Chief Deputy Biddle, jailers are supposed to count the inmates every hour to make sure all are accounted for. Mayor Hipsher said jailers can use the monitoring screens or put inmates in their cells.

"If they lock them down, they could count them every hour if you'd just throw them into their cells they could go through and make a count," said Hipsher.

Mayor Hipsher says the inmates escaped through the wire ceiling of the rec yard.

"They got the bolts out some way, probably with tools slipped into the jail, and they loosened up the screen on top of the rec area."

The mayor says the bolts have now been welded in place.

Another question still unanswered - why If the escape happened Friday was the media not notified until Monday? The mayor had no answer.

"I found out when Channel 6 news called me Monday morning to ask about it," he said.

The DA says the delay in notifications is still being investigated.

The mayor says at last check, investigators do not believe the three escaped inmates are still in Grainger County, but investigators are working on several leads.

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