Forsyth County detention officers shut off water for nearly three hours on Aug. 5 after they say some inmates at the Forsyth County Jail flooded their cells, a spokeswoman for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
Christina Howell, the spokeswoman, said Monday that inmates had staged a demonstration to protest certain restrictions that jail officials had imposed. She said Thursday in response to questions from the Winston-Salem Journal that the restrictions were “imposed upon them by virtue of being incarcerated.” She has said that no inmate was injured because there were no altercations. She also said that no inmates who participated in the protests were charged.
“For example, the residents are unhappy with the fact they are confined to their cells for specific periods of time and are not allowed out at their discretion,” she said in an email Thursday. “Another example would be that the residents feel that certain items should not be considered contraband and be allowed in their possession. A specific example of that would be images that are sexual in nature.”
Howell said that sometimes, for example, an inmate might get letters from loved ones that contain sexual images.
Alisha Nelson, who has a family member in custody at the Forsyth County Jail, and an inmate, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation from jail officials, both told the Winston-Salem Journal in separate interviews that detention officers turned the water off earlier than Thursday. The inmate specifically said detention officers turned the water off for three days starting Aug. 4 and he said he and other inmates have been given limited hygiene supplies, deprived of personal and legal mail and denied access to food and other items from their canteen.
Nelson said detention officers have been looking for the source of illegal drugs at the jail and have also stopped visitations. She said some inmates have not received their medications.
Howell said the jail’s medical provider responded to requests for medical attention or treatment. She didn’t directly respond to the question of medication.
Howell declined to say how many inmates were involved in what she called a demonstration at the Forsyth County Jail on Aug. 5.
“I am being as accurate and factual by not providing specific numbers,” Howell said in her email Thursday. In a later email, she said it would be inaccurate to assume that every resident participated in the demonstration.
Howell did say that inmates in six Housing Units on three floors participated in the demonstration. Each Housing Unit has a maximum capacity of between 20 inmates and 65 inmates, she said. Based on those numbers, up to approximately 120 and 390 inmates could have participated in the protests on Aug. 5.
It is likely less than that, and Howell said that in cells that have two inmates, only one of those inmates may have flooded a cell by clogging toilets and sinks. She said that the extent of flooding and clogging determines how long the water would be cut off. She said some inmates have caused flooding in their cells before.
“For the incident last week, the water was cut off to each Housing Unit as they were being flooded for not quite three (3) hours and then the water was turned back on temporarily at regular hourly intervals,” Howell said.
Howell did not say what time of day on Aug. 5 the demonstrations started or for how long the water was turned on and off at regular intervals.
Howell has said that personal items were taken from inmates in order for detention officers to clean and dry Housing Units that had been flooded. She said those items were returned.
“I want to assure our community — and especially the loved ones of the Detention Center residents — that the conditions of the Detention Center are maintained to be sanitary, clean, and orderly,” Howell said. “We understand that the circumstances of being incarcerated are not ideal and there are many necessary restrictions of freedom in order to protect the residents, the detention officers, and ultimately our community.”
Triad Abolition Project issued a statement Thursday, criticizing the sheriff’s office on the conditions at the Forsyth County Jail. The statement noted that the contents of Howell’s email to the Winston-Salem Journal ended up on the Facebook page of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office later that day.
“The FCSO continues its pattern of controlling the narrative by using their own social media platform to restrict the flow of accurate and complete information to the public,” the group said.
Triad Abolition Project, along with other groups, criticized the sheriff’s office earlier this year for how it handled a COVID-19 outbreak at the jail. The group also led a 49-day occupation last year over the death of John Neville. Five detention officers and a nurse are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death. Neville died on Dec. 4, 2019, days after video showed detention officers piled on top of Neville, who was in a prone restraint, in a jail cell.
“We remain unwaveringly in solidarity with our incarcerated siblings and their families, and refuse to be placated by the hollow assurances that all ‘Detention Center residents are treated with respect and care’ when there is so much evidence to the contrary,” the group said in its statement.
Members of Triad Abolition Project will hold a march at the Forsyth County Jail at 7 p.m. Friday.