01/17/10 — Longtime chief jailer resigns his post

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Longtime chief jailer resigns his post

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 17, 2010 1:50 AM

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James Tadlock

James Tadlock has seen just about everything during his 27 years a jailer with the Wayne County Sheriff's Office.

But the biggest problem he encountered was the time when inmates were housed in a makeshift jail in a warehouse off U.S. 117 North while a new jail was being built.

"At the time, the cells were basically metal boxes, and they didn't run all the way to the ceiling," Tadlock recalled. "It was kind of a nightmare, because it wasn't a secure building."

Tadlock recently retired. Looking back on his years as a security officer, he said the interim jail represented his most trying time.

More than a dozen prisoners escaped at one time or another from the facility, which is now used as a sheriff's office annex.

"They could climb up on the air conditioner vents and climb out of the cells," Tadlock said.

Some of the cinder blocks in the building also had been put together with weak mortar, allowing the prisoners to pull out the bricks. Once they had escaped the metal boxes, prisoners could simply walk out the door.

"Fire inspectors wouldn't let you lock the doors, because they said it was a fire hazard," Tadlock said.

Another problem was the roof of the building itself.

"The entire roof had plywood on top, so they could push the vent and come out on top," Tadlock said.

Finally, a state inspector ordered the doors to be locked, including metal bars that prevented inmates from crawling out of the metal-box jail cells.

"The air conditioning vents, they ran bars through them, so they couldn't climb out through them," Tadlock said. "He made them start locking all the exit doors."

Most of the years he spent watching over inmates were less dramatic, Tadlock said.

Former Sheriff James Sasser first hired Tadlock as deputy in 1983. In the late 1980s, the old jail beside the courthouse had begun to show its age and was running out of space.

The county bought the former J.J. Haines & Co. building and used it as the temporary jail, but as soon as a new, six-story facility could be constructed in 1995, the makeshift jail was turned into offices.

But the new jail came with its own problems, said Tadlock, who was promoted to jail administrator by the incoming sheriff, Carey Winders.

"That was supposed to last us for several years, and it probably lasted about two years before we started running the maximum (jail population), which was 200 inmates," Tadlock said. "We had a lot of, I guess, growing pains, because plumbing-wise, and with cameras and equipment, it really hadn't been tested enough. We had a lot of problems with that equipment."

Two officers had to be assigned to each of the six floors. County officials hadn't foreseen the need for so many jailers.

"We thought with the cameras and monitors that we had, we'd be able to take care of them. But the cameras wouldn't take the place of a person. You had to have direct supervision," Tadlock said

Part of the problem was that the new jail was designed with aesthetics in mind, he said.

"It was designed to blend into the courthouse and look pretty," Tadlock said. "But it was not a usefully designed building. I don't think it was politics, I think they just wanted something to blend in with the old courthouse, and ... a lot of time was spent on the decor of the outside walls, and not as much concern about the inside.

"The design of the building has put us at a disadvantage because we need so many people," Tadlock said. "If it had been a two-story building, we could operate with less employees. And our camera system and electronics and everything else, the computer system, the telephone system, is outdated."

But although he doesn't believe the existing jail is a perfect lockup, Tadlock said he gives county commissioners credit for providing the Sheriff's Office with what is needed to operate the six-story jail as effectively as possible.

"I've been blessed to work with the people I've worked with all these years. The commissioners knew if we needed something, we're a big liability to the county, so they tried to fulfill our needs," he said.

Tadlock also said he had been "blessed" to work for Sasser, then Winders, whom he said has a good understanding of what it takes to run a secure jail.

Winders said Tadlock, who will continue to work for the county part time, was a big asset to the Sheriff's Office.

"He'll be sorely missed," Winders said. "He's done a great job. He was instrumental in helping me, especially after I was elected, to move from that (temporary jail). He's going to continue to help us with our courts, and our jail population."

Tadlock and his wife, Rita, have been married for 35 years. The soft-spoken lawman said she has been understanding of the demands of his job.

"I think she's gotten used to the phone calls at night. She's my best friend, and the person who is closest to me."

The couple have a son, Sterling, who is in medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.