On Tuesday, Jackson County legislators sharply criticized the management of the County Detention Center after last week’s attack on a corrections officer. On Friday, the county’s director of corrections was gone.
County Executive Frank White Jr. said he had accepted the resignation of Joe Piccinini. White termed it a resignation and implied it was Piccinini’s idea. Piccinini could not be reached for comment Friday.
White had words of praise for Piccinini, a former Lee’s Summit police chief.
“Together, along with the Legislature, we’ve made safety and security our top priority,” he said.
White has named deputy director Diana Turner as acting director and said the county will begin a nationwide search for a new director. Capt. Isaac Johnston becomes the acting deputy director.
“I have complete confidence in their ability to lead during this transition,” White said.
Although on Tuesday White said he had confidence in Corrections Department managers, several county legislators expressed alarm over last week’s beating and previous incidents. Legislator Crystal Williams, D-Kansas City, said flatly that she didn’t have confidence in management of the jail and said in any other sphere if things like this were going on, heads would roll. White said Friday those comments didn’t put pressure on him to move.
The previous county executive, Mike Sanders, named Piccinini to the job in 2015, a time when the FBI had begun an investigation of the jail and the county added to top corrections staff to pursue reforms and, among other things, seek national accreditation, a process that continues.
“He came in at a tough time,” White said.
White said the jail remains “understaffed and overcrowded.” Turner said the county has more than 40 openings for corrections officers as well as several open positions for lieutenants. White has pushed for higher pay, which could take effect in January. County legislators take up the 2018 budget next week.
White on Friday singled out the work of corrections officers.
“Those guys, they have a tough job – a job most of us probably wouldn’t want to do,” he said.
Legislators had pressed White over last week’s attack, which happened in a section of the jail where the most dangerous offenders are held.
“There needs to be specific action to make sure that never happens again,” said Legislator Alfred Jordan, D-Kansas City.
“We’re doing the best we can to beef up staff in that particular part of the jail,” Turner said Friday. She also said the guard, who had been in intensive care and described as fighting for his life, is much better now and out of the hospital.
Turner also backed up White’s statement that no one can guarantee that the jail, or any jail, won’t have more incidents.
“At the end of the day, we house violent people who hurt other people,” she said.
On a related note, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s office announced Friday that the jail inmate accused of rape inside the jail in September 2016 has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge but is nonetheless now in a state prison and has been sentenced to serve there for the rest of his life.
Dontae Jefferson of Kansas City shot and killed a man at a gas station in 2014 and shot the man’s 10-year-old son, leaving the boy in a wheelchair. In October, he was given four life sentences in that case.
On Thursday, he pleaded guilty to getting into the cell of a female inmate. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the charge of rape and two charges of sexual abuse. That cleared the way for Jefferson to be sent to state custody immediately. That happened about 8 p.m. Thursday, Baker’s office said.