Miami-Dade County

Inmates brawl after Miami-Dade jail security gaffe leaves doors open

In a major breach, a control panel at Miami’s Turner Guilford Knight jail malfunctioned, causing the electronically controlled cell doors to slide open in a maximum-security wing.

During the ensuing chaos, four inmates rushed into the cell of Kenneth Williams, attacking him.

The inmate saved himself by leaping off the second-floor tier, crashing to the floor below and severely injuring his ankle and back.

Miami-Dade corrections officers pepper-sprayed the attackers and confiscated at least two homemade shank. Williams, himself a reputed Liberty City gang member, was arrested for possession of a contraband blade.

The June 14 episode is another black eye for a Miami-Dade jail system long plagued by complaints of shoddy conditions and lax security. The episode, detailed in internal reports obtained by the Miami Herald, was the second time in recent weeks the newly installed security door system opened suddenly without warning.

The same thing happened May 20, although there were no incidents that time.

“I still can’t believe it actually occurred,” said Williams’ lawyer, J.C. Dugue. “The negligence is amazing, especially if they knew this was already a problem. My client has lots of enemies in jail and he is in a safety cell for a reason.”

In all, 48 cell doors opened for less than five minutes, said Marydell Guevara, assistant director of the Miami-Dade Corrections Department. The mishap is under investigation, she said

But the “group release” feature on the door system has been permanently disabled for the TGK maximum security wing known as K-81, where high-risk inmates are kept to protect themselves or others, she said.

The computerized sliding door system was part of an ongoing $1.4 million security upgrade at TGK, slated for completion next month.

The same sliding door system already has been installed at the MetroWest Detention Center, 13850 NW 41st St, at a price of $1 million. Both systems were installed by Black Creek Integrated Systems, which specializes in corrections security systems.

The upgrades were aimed at renovating Miami-Dade jails, which were the subject of a sweeping U.S. Department of Justice probe two years ago. The probe chronicled poor conditions at the jail system, one of the largest corrections systems in the country.

Miami-Dade grand juries have blasted deplorable conditions at county jails twice, in 2004 and 2008.

Most of the scrutiny had fallen on Miami-Dade’s aging Pretrial Detention Center. But TGK, about 10 miles west, has not escaped scandal.

In December 2005, a serial rapist shimmied down ropes fashioned from bed sheets and escaped. That prompted the creation of a task force that reported outdated facilities, poor training, slack security, too many job vacancies and a ballooning population of mentally ill inmates.

Investigators are looking at the computerized control panel that controls access to the sliding doors.

The panel features a group release button that, in TGK’s normal dorm-style housing units, allows for quick head counts of inmates. However, in a maximum-security, single-cell setting, the feature is not needed since inmates are not allowed to interact in a common area.

But on May 20, the group release feature was mysteriously activated. Officers on duty insisted no one pressed the button.

In response, technicians added an extra feature — the button now must be pressed twice, Guevara said.

Nevertheless, the night of June 13, the doors opened again.

At the time, Williams, 26, was being housed in a single-cell wing, K-81, that houses 48 “high-risk” inmates when the doors suddenly opened.

“The control panel shut down and all cell doors opened, at which time all inmates came out of their cells” one officer wrote in an internal report.

In a written statement, Williams said four inmates rushed in. Officers later identified them as Junior Pascal, Jay Stubbs, Quincy Taylor and Richard Holt.

As Williams jumped from the top tier, officers scrambled to catch the inmates as they chased Williams down to the ground level.

According to one officer, Holt was wrestled down in the shower area; a discarded homemade knife was found nearby.

Again, officers said no one pressed the button and they said the control panel lighting stopped at the moment of the malfunction.

A review of the internal computer, however, showed the cause as “operator” error, Guevara said.

“We have not been able to determine what went wrong,” Guevara said.

Police say Williams and his twin brother run the violent “New Moneii” gang, which deals dope in part of Liberty City’s Annie Coleman housing projects, known as The Rockies.

Although they have never been charged, the twins are believed to have ordered the December 2008 hit of a rival. In the shooting, one of the gunmen killed a 10-month- old baby, who was struck by a bullet while sitting in his father’s lap. Two teenage gunmen were convicted at trial of the boy’s murder.

Williams and his brother were arrested after they were accused of threatening the prosecution’s key witness who outlined how the drug operation work and the murder unfolded.

Williams had gotten into a fight with an inmate a few months ago, according to the jail. The June attack may have been payback.

The injured Williams now is at TGK’s medical unit as he recovers from his injuries.

Williams said the doors have opened suddenly at least three times in recent months, according to his lawyer.