Violence at Merced County Jail prompts call for action

FRESNO, Calif.

Merced County Correctional Officer Chris Navarro says he could have been killed inside the main jail on Monday. That's when four inmates pried open a cell door and started stabbing an inmate worker who was walking with him. "I'm thankful then as I am now that they weren't after me because it could have gone really bad."

Navarro is also the president of the Merced County Sheriff's Employee Association. He argues the attack is the latest evidence of the lack of control officers have over inmates because of recent staffing cuts. "These guys have shown over the last few months if they want to, they can take over a facility."

The sheriff's department issued pink slips to 19 correctional officers earlier this year to meet a county mandated eight million dollar budget cut. But other funding sources helped save 16 of those positions.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie said, "We would love to have twice as many officers as we do now, but unfortunately with the budget restrictions we have right now we do the best we can."

Deputy MacKenzie says the inmate who was stabbed is recovering, and the sheriff's office is investigating how the attackers pried open their cell door. But now the Teamsters Law Enforcement League is asking the board of supervisors to get involved by holding a public hearing to address staffing levels.

Navarro said, "It's not going to fix all of our problems by far, but staffing is definitely the biggest step and the first step I think we should take."

Supervisors are now looking into the issue, but have not yet announced any plans for a hearing.

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