Alcohol intake at big events makes for busy nights at Fayette County jail

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 6, 2013 

What does the Fayette County jail have in common with Keeneland race track?

On Friday, the opening day of the 2013 Spring Meet, plenty.

Both were gathering places for well-dressed, college-age people who'd had a little — or a lot — to drink.

Both places also took bets, although there were no cash payouts at the jail. Rather than predicting the outcome of horse races, arrestees made friendly wagers with corrections officers on what the final reading of a breath analyzer would be.

One man who had been arrested for disorderly conduct raised his arms in triumph as the device measured his blood-alcohol content at 0.302, nearly four times the legal limit for driving. He had guessed the reading would be "0.2-something."

"Wow," Lt. Timothy Bowman said when he saw the reading. "Call the nurse."

On days when there are big events in Lexington such as Keeneland's opening day, football games and concerts at Rupp Arena, the jail typically sees an increase in people booked on alcohol-related charges, officers said.

When the event falls on a Friday — the busiest day of the week — the 25 or so corrections officers, court employees and nurses who work at the booking counter stay busy. At the booking area, people are searched, identified and photographed before being put in a cell or posting bail.

"Usually on second shift on a Friday, we book in 30 or 40 inmates," Sgt. Jerrod Stump said at the beginning of the 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. shift. "On a day like today, we might get 20 or so more than that."

At the end of Friday's shift, 52 people had been booked, most for DUI, alcohol intoxication or disorderly conduct.

Jail administrators allowed a Herald-Leader reporter and photographer to shadow booking officers during two Friday evening shifts. Compared to the first visit — a frigid night in December — Keeneland's opening day was a flurry of activity.

Warm weather and big events "tend to bring people out more, socializing," said Bowman, who supervises the booking area on second shift. "Anytime there's alcohol involved with a big group of people, especially with a younger crowd, you're going to have a higher number of arrests."

The dozen or so arrestees who had spent the afternoon at Keeneland were easy to spot. Young men wearing button-up shirts, khakis and sports jackets, their faces red from too much sun or too much beer, sat quietly in the "passive intake" area, where inmates are allowed to make phone calls and watch TV until they sober up and pay bail or go to a cell.

None of them wanted to talk to a reporter Friday.

During the December visit, only one inmate wanted to talk. Ricky Harmon, who said he spends a lot of time at the jail on alcohol charges, took the opportunity to complain about Aramark, the company that supplies the food.

"Aramark ain't worth a damn," he said. "You'd think they could throw a dash of salt on there or something."

On Friday, most inmates were compliant or downright friendly with officers, but there were exceptions.

One man wearing a white polo shirt pulled away from officers while he was in handcuffs and called them "soft" and "worthless." As he placed his polished brown loafers and leather belt on the counter during a pat-down, he told officers to be careful with them.

"That's an $80 belt. That's worth more than your life," he told Bowman.

The man had been arrested for driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and driving on a suspended license. On his way to the jail, he earned an additional charge of criminal mischief for kicking the window of a police cruiser.

Despite the insults and bravado, the man eventually calmed down. After about 15 minutes, he shook Bowman's hand and agreed to sit quietly with the rest of the inmates until he could make bail.

During both visits, altercations never escalated past verbal threats and insults.

Bowman said the officers, armed only with pepper spray, prefer to talk inmates down rather than take them down.

Corrections officers undergo extensive interpersonal communications training, Bowman said. Most officers quickly recognize which inmates to scold, which ones to banter with and which ones to lend a sympathetic ear.

One drunken man who had gotten into a fight earlier in the night was still riled up as he was being booked in about 9:30 p.m. He threatened to beat up a photographer and the police officer who brought him to jail.

Bowman and Corporal Joquetta Wingate distracted the man by guessing what his breath analyzer readout would say.

"Come on, show me something," the man said, his attention suddenly focused on the device as it calculated. (His blood-alcohol level was 0.275.)

Bowman and Stump estimated 90 percent of inmates are compliant. About 10 percent act out, but only one or two people out of 100 get physically violent.

Officers usually wrestle violent offenders into restraint chairs. As for the mouthy ones, "they'll be cussing us and calling us names, but as long as they're walking into a cell, then we're fine," Bowman said.

Some young officers look forward to the excitement of dealing with a rowdy prisoner, but the most successful booking officers are the ones who are laid back and don't take things personally, Stump said.

"If a couple dozen people come through that door and they're all cooperative, that's a good day to me," he said.

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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