Bad Behavior: A Taking Action Investigation finds staffing shortages, high overtime at the Marshall County Jail

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. -- The problems at the Marshall County jail did not begin with Wednesday’s disturbance that led to multiple law enforcement agencies being called in to assist.

A WHNT News 19 investigation, “Bad Behavior” which aired Tuesday, broke the news of fights, drug use and other bad behavior in the jail – all captured by inmate cell phone videos uploaded to social media. That investigation was spurred by multiple calls we received from concerned Marshall County residents.

The Marshall County Sheriff’s Office said it launched a shakedown on inmates at the jail Wednesday morning – following WHNT News 19’s Tuesday night reporting --  and some inmates responded violently, prompting the call for assistance from other agencies.  The sheriff's office says one was reported hurt in the encounters - neither law enforcement officers nor inmates.

Sheriff Scott Walls didn’t respond to WHNT News 19’s multiple requests for an interview before Tuesday’s investigation aired, but Wednesday the sheriff’s office issued a statement from Walls that seemed to shift blame for problems at the jail to the Marshall County Commission.

“In the past two years, we have requested additional funding and to increase the starting pay for jailers,” the statement said. “That request has been denied numerous times by Chairman James Hutcheson.”

But we’d spoken to Hutcheson about jail problems before today’s incident and he offered a very different view.

“We fund everything they ask for,” Hutcheson told WHNT News 19 last week.

Hutcheson pointed out half the county budget goes to the sheriff’s office. WHNT News 19 found records that show the jail staff is supposed to have 28 jailers, right now there are 10 vacancies.

Records also show the county has also paid nearly $1 million in overtime over the past five years.

The jailer vacancies increased last week when a jailer was fired. The same jailer, Jonathan Mark Foster, 34 of Horton, was arrested Monday.

He faces a third-degree promoting prison contraband charge. The sheriff’s office said deputies arrested the former after an investigation found him responsible for a cell phone found inside the Marshall County Jail.

The sheriff’s office statement also complained the county commission was cutting a key jail position.

“At the last commission meeting, the commission chose to defund a jail supervisor position,” the statement reads.

But Hutcheson disputed that claim as well, saying the position had been unfilled for 17 months and the county only eliminated it in June, as required by county budget rules.

WHNT News 19 asked Sheriff Walls for an interview again today, following the jail disturbance, he said he wasn’t available to do an interview at this time.

Our “Bad Behavior” investigation will continue digging deeper into the jail’s ongoing staffing problems. You can read more coverage here: