Metro Louisville

Mayor Greg Fischer is requesting the Louisville Metro Police Department speed up their investigation into deaths connected to the city jail following news of another fatality over the weekend. 

An unidentified 66-year-old man died Sunday morning after jail staff found him unresponsive. The man had only been incarcerated at the downtown jail for four days. It was the fifth in-custody death for Metro Corrections in fewer than two months. 

At a COVID-19 press conference Monday morning, Fischer said LMPD is investigating all of the deaths — as is standard protocol — and one of them is also being investigated by the FBI.

“I’ve asked LMPD to accelerate their investigations, and if we determine there is any type of pattern to these recent deaths we certainly will open further investigations,” Fischer said. 

He said the person who died Sunday had been housed on the jail’s “medical floor” since arriving at the facility on Jan. 4. He said he requested a timeline from LMPD on all of the investigations and hoped to have more information Monday afternoon.

“This is very concerning,” he said. “The numbers show us that we average about three deaths a year at the jail … So, the question is, you know, is something unusual happening right now or is this just really tragic timing?”

For months, Metro Corrections officers sounded the alarm about overcrowding, under-staffing and faulty equipment in the jail. Last year, union officials called the state of Louisville’s jail a dumpster fire,” and its members said they have no confidence in Jail Director Dwayne Clark. City officials have estimated staffing at the jail is down 15-20%.

Metro Council’s Public Safety Committee grilled Clark in December after the jail saw three in-custody deaths in a single week. 

At that meeting, Corrections Union President Daniel Johnson said at least one of the deaths, believed to be a suicide, could have been prevented with proper staffing.

“I think there is an absolute correlation between the level of care that we can provide and the level of observation to our staffing numbers,” Johnson told Metro Council. “If we have enough people there working, we could check on these folks every 10 minutes.”

Neither Johnson or Council Member Jessica Green, who heads the committee, responded to a request for comment on Monday.

Fischer said Monday that his administration has taken “numerous actions” to alleviate the crisis at the city jail. That includes providing $6,500 in premium pay and retention bonuses to current workers, and negotiating higher wages. 

Louisville Metro reached a tentative deal on a new contract for corrections workers in December that would raise the starting salary for jail officers and give current employees an 8% raise.

For some, though, Fischer’s actions haven’t gone far enough.  

Metro Council President David James, a Democrat, told WFPL News on Sunday that Fischer should fire Clark and said there was “a lack of leadership” within the jail.

“Director Clark has not taken staffing issues seriously for multiple years, and it has led to where we are now,” James said. 

Activists and civil rights groups formed a coalition last month, headed by the ACLU of Kentucky, in response to the deaths. They’ve asked Metro officials to ensure that third-party contractors are providing adequate numbers of mental health professionals and drug addiction specialists. The coalition also demanded Louisville’s top prosecutors and judges stop relying on cash bail for minor, non-violent offenses. 

Carla Wallace, a co-founder of the group Showing Up For Racial Justice, said Monday that Louisville showed at the start of the pandemic that it could significantly reduce the jail population by relying less on cash bail and issuing summons instead of making arrests when appropriate. She said the city should do that again.

“We did that before when there was a health crisis,” she said. “Well, people dying right now is a health crisis.”

Wallace said the coalition would also like to see more frequent updates from Fischer about conditions at the jail and the ongoing investigations.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.