By Cynthia M. Jeffries

Daily Journal

A surprise inspection of the Tupelo City Jail conducted Friday by two city officials found makeshift weapons and drug paraphernalia in inmates’ cells, possible jail escape routes and a lax operation filled with policy and procedural violations.

The shakedown, conducted by interim Deputy Police Chief C.C. Privette and Mayor Jack Marshall, stemmed from a jail escape that occurred Thursday. Robert Owens, 30, Tupelo, had been placed in a holding cell and was to be questioned by detectives. But when detectives came to get him about 5:45 p.m., jailers discovered Owens had walked away from the jail.

Owens apparently climbed over a holding cell door and into a hallway and walked out of the jail. The holding cell, which is located behind the jailer’s office, is a steel, lattice-style, caged area. But there is an opening above the cell door. Once a person crosses to the other side of the door, he is in a hallway that leads to a back exit.

Owens, who was brought in with five other people, had not been recaptured Friday afternoon.

“When I walked in here and saw this, I said, Get everybody in here you can because I want this place inspected,'” Privette said. “What happened (Thursday) was because of a laxity in following procedures. I have been checking every aspect of this department. All of this is going to change.”

Privette said he has made a lot of changes within the Tupelo Police Department since coming on board and said more will be made. He said Monday he would release a complete list of his changes, recommendations and problems within the department.

Privette’s surprise inspection started about noon. The mayor joined the inspection about three hours later.

During his five-hour tour, more than 40 inmates were moved to other cells while officers out mattresses.

Found were:

– A broken, jagged gin bottle.

– A “zip gun.”

– Bullets.

– A sharpened bed spring, rigged to make a weapon called a shank.

– Plastic forks melted to make a point and forks that were missing the two middle prongs.

– Blades from disposable razors.

– Washers that had been used to rub a hole in a jail cell wall.

“A lot of these weapons are not intended to be used to hurt officers, but other inmates,” Marshall said.

Personal items like televisions, cassette players and radios were also taken away from the prisoners.

Privette would not say if disciplinary actions would be taken against any jail personnel.

Privette had at least a dozen officers roaming through the jail. Interim Police Chief Jerry Crocker was not present during the inspection.

“We had a number of problems within the police department and (the mayor) wanted to bring someone on board to clean it up,” Privette said.

Privette, 66, a chiropractor for 20 years and a friend of the mayor for at least seven years, was initially hired last month as a police commissioner – a position that had never existed in the department. But after the council complained, the mayor changed Privette’s job title to interim deputy police chief.

Earlier this week, the council tried to remove Privette’s $40,000 salary. That measure failed.

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