Commissioners Temporarily Re-Assign Locker Room Facilities from Sheriff’s Office to Corrections Department
 
Posted on Thursday April 02, 2020
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 2, 2020

Commissioners Temporarily Re-Assign Locker Room Facilities from Sheriff’s Office to Corrections Department

Kennewick, WA
– At today’s Special Board Meeting (April 2, 2020 at 1:30 PM), the Benton County Commissioners removed the control of one set of men’s and women’s locker rooms, historically shared by the Correction’s Staff and Sheriff’s Staff from the Sheriff’s Office and re-assigned said control to the Corrections Department. This change is effective immediately until such time as the emergency provisions in effect stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic are fully lifted.

Background
On October 23, 2019 the Benton County Commissioners separated operation of the Benton County Jail from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. In response to the separation, Sheriff Jerry Hatcher prohibited access for Corrections Department personnel to certain locker rooms within the space occupied by the Sheriff’s Office. 

Since October 23, 2019, Benton County Corrections Department Officers have not had access to a locker room to change clothes when coming on and off shift and to store their uniforms. These locker room facilities were previously shared and built with intent to accommodate personnel from both the Sheriff’s Office and the Corrections Department.

Declaration of Emergency and Resulting Incidents
On March 17, 2020 the Benton County Board of County Commissioners declared an emergency in response to the developing situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and on March 23, 2020, the Governor of the State of Washington issued his Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation. 

Shortly after this declaration, Chief of Corrections Scott Souza notified the Commissioners and the County Administrator that access to a locker room was vital during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to maintain the health and safety of Corrections Department staff. 

Chief Souza attempted to contact Sheriff Hatcher on multiple occasions requesting access to the available locker room facilities. Sheriff Hatcher has refused to respond to Chief Souza or to cooperate with Commissioners’ staff in allowing access.

Corrections staff have been functioning without a locker room by taking their uniforms home with them, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased concerns among employees that, by taking their uniforms and other gear home with them, they are increasing the likelihood of any potential contagions being transmitted throughout the community and to their families.

The Commissioners have found that access to locker rooms is paramount to ensuring the health and safety of the Corrections Department employees and their families, and that there is not sufficient time to construct new locker room facilities nor is there any viable alternatives available at this time.

On March 31, 2020 the Board of Commissioners issued a letter to Sheriff Hatcher indicating that they would be installing temporary security measures to allow Corrections Department access to the locker rooms, in addition to continue maintaining access for Sheriff’s Office personnel. 

While attempting to install said measures later that day, Benton County Facilities staff were directed to cease and desist by Benton County Sheriff’s Deputies at the direction of Sheriff Hatcher.

Solution
The Commissioners have found that access to locker rooms is paramount to ensuring the health and safety of the Corrections Department employees and their families, and as such have hereby removed the men’s and women’s locker rooms, historically shared by the Sheriff’s Office and Corrections Department personnel, from Sheriff’s Office control and assigned those facilities to the Benton County Corrections Department.

These changes are effective immediately and are to remain in effect until the emergency provisions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic are fully lifted.

This change in control will not affect the Sheriff’s Office personnel’s ability to access locker room facilities, but will provide the access needed for the Corrections Department personnel to access the same facilities to ensure they are able to maintain their personal health and safety, and the health and safety of the community and their families.  

Commissioners have directed staff to take the necessary steps to provide a new access to locker rooms for the Corrections staff from an entry point outside the Sheriff’s Office, while closing access to said facilities from within the Sheriff’s Office in order to maintain security within the Sheriff’s Office space. Sheriffs Office staff will still be able to access the locker rooms through the new entry point.

About Benton County
Benton County is located in south-central Washington. The county seat is located in Prosser, and its largest city is Kennewick. Benton County was created on March 8, 1905 and was named after U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton. Benton County operates under the plural executive form of government with three commissioners and seven other elected officials. Benton County has offices located in Prosser and Kennewick. For more information, please visit our website. 

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Contact: Shyanne Palmus, Communications Coordinator   
Shyanne.Palmus@co.benton.wa.us | 509-222-3760
 
 
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