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Short staffing no factor in inmate death says jail commander

Posted at 6:46 PM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 21:46:21-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Pima County’s Jail Commander says short staffing was not a factor in the death of a jail inmate---the first killing in the jail in about 40 years.  That man's cell mate is charged with killing him.

The jail officer supervising the cell was watching twice as many cells as usual the day of the murder.  

Jails, like the Pima County Jail are meant to keep us safe from the inmates inside but jails are also meant to keep the inmates safe from each other and that did not happen in one case.      

Jail surveillance video shows officers and paramedics rushing to help Branden Roth.  Roth was found in a pool of blood, locked in a two man cell with King Yates.  Yates was already already facing a murder charge in the death of his wife. Roth was accused of burglary.

 "As far as trying to identify a contributing factor, there is one person responsible for this event.  That is our suspect in this case who committed a violent act.">

But investigative records suggest the men and their cell was not checked as often as usual.

The high security zone of the Pima County Jail is organized into pods with about 36 two-inmate cells per pod

Jail records show the corrections officer watching Roth and Yates cell had double the workload.  

Normally a corrections officer like this one is expected to check a cell every fifteen minutes. When an officer has to cover two pods the checks can be a half hour apart but the Jail Commander says trouble can happen anytime.

"It's impossible to keep eyes on every inmate 24 hours a day.  It's absolutely impossible so those moments when something could occur and things do occur are simply the nature of running a correctional facility."         

Jail Commander Byron Gwaltney says it's not unusual to ask an officer to cover more cells if there's an absence or an emergency and there's no practical way to call in a fill-in.  He says there is turnover in jail staff but the staff is close to its authorized strength of 420 officers