Spokane County Jail inmates will start returning today to cells they flooded with toilet water Saturday evening.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich plans to seek felony charges against those who were responsible if an assessment confirms the damage was as costly as county officials expect.
Capt. John McGrath, the jail commander, said inmates in the jail annex clogged toilets with a couple of jumpsuits, several towels and a blanket. Then they flushed their toilets until floor drains were overwhelmed.
Pipes were so badly clogged that plumbers couldn’t unplug them over the weekend. They had to come back Monday with a bigger rooter, McGrath said.
He said the vandalism was a coordinated effort among 20 to 30 inmates in two cell blocks.
“We haven’t had anything like this in the last few years, but we’ve had issues like this in the past,” McGrath said.
Because the “annex” is actually an older lockup on the second floor of the Public Safety Building, the flooding damaged offices used by detectives, administrators and the police records section.
In addition to water from above, the ground-floor offices were damaged when their own toilets began overflowing, McGrath said.
He said annex inmates were moved to the main jail and kept in isolation so they couldn’t “get a story together” while officers interviewed them in search of ringleaders.
The Spokesman-Review learned of Saturday’s incident in an e-mail from an inmate’s mother. She complained that inmates were forced to clean up the mess in their bare feet and that some of them later suffered diarrhea and respiratory illnesses.
“They had no problems standing in it when they were flooding their cells,” Knezovich said.
“I’m sure we used inmate labor to clean it up,” McGrath said.
Although the water came from toilets, “it wasn’t soiled in any way,” he said.
McGrath said inmates were allowed to shower if they wished. He said he hadn’t heard of any illnesses or requests for medical service.