During the sentencing, Circuit Judge Joel Laird was presented a report about large amounts of contraband found in the "pink block" of the county jail. That area is reserved for the most violent offenders in the jail, including Jarell Price, who was being sentenced on a capital murder conviction.
"All of this was found at the same time within these cells? That concerns me," Laird said to Investigator Jason Oden of the Sheriff's Office.
On Oct. 6, 13 of 15 inmates in the jail's pink block were found with contraband ranging from extra blankets to sharpened metal pieces broken off of beds.
Three of the inmates were charged in the incident: federal inmate David Scott Young, 33, of Owens Crossroads, Skylar Lloyd Allen, 23, of Ohatchee and Price.
Young was charged the week of the alleged offense, after trying to dig out of the jail and setting fire to items in his cell. Allen and Price were charged Wednesday, the day before Price's sentencing, Sheriff's Chief Deputy Matthew Wade said.
"All these are the most dangerous … in the jail. You found this much contraband? In eight different cells?" Laird asked the investigator.
Wade said that afternoon that he felt the judge's comments in the courtroom were unfair.
"Our guys did their jobs. These were routine cell inspections," Wade said. "These were all proactive finds on our part."
When asked Friday to elaborate, Laird said he wouldn't add to his comments in court Thursday.
Contraband is anything found in the cells that isn't approved, said jail administrator Eric Starr.
Inmates are issued standard items, such as small tooth brushes, an eating utensil, small shaving razors, pens, stamps and inmate uniforms. Starr said security and safety are considered in purchasing supplies, and that each item is purchased from special corrections industry businesses.
In the pink block, inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours per day, leaving them with time to get creative, Wade said.
Some of the contraband found Oct. 6 included items that had been sharpened by dragging them across the floor, as well as razors that had been broken and sharpened.
The items were found during a "shakedown," in which corrections officers remove inmates from their cells to do a full inspection for contraband items and damage to the cells. Starr said each cell is inspected daily, and that full shakedowns take place regularly.
Wade said the Sheriff's Office has tried to pursue warrants for contraband in the past to no avail.
"(Prosecutors) have told us it's an internal matter and not an issue."
Sheriff Larry Amerson called contraband a "constant battle" for corrections officers, but said that the majority of contraband found is clothes and torn-up sheets.
"There is contraband in every jail across America," Wade said. "When you think you've figured it all out, they'll come up with a new way (to create weapons)."
District Attorney Joe Hubbard also said contraband weapons are commonly found in the jail system.
"It happens in all jails; it's in city jails as well," Hubbard said. "It's just that the county jail houses a lot more people than other jails."
Amerson and Wade said they are not sure why warrants were issued in this case, and also said they were unsure as to why they were issued for only three of the 13 inmates involved.
"I can't tell you why warrants were issued in this case because we haven't ever gotten warrants on it before," Amerson said. "This was the first time it was communicated by the District Attorney's Office where we were asked to do it and we gladly did.
"(Contraband weapons) are a risk to the security of the jail, and we want to prosecute them," Amerson continued later. "If this is a change in policy, we're all for it."
Hubbard said warrants were issued in this case because investigators asked the DA's office to pursue it.
"We usually do. It depends on what it is, but if it's a weapon of some type we always do," Hubbard said.
When asked about Wade's and Amerson's claims that the DA's office does not pursue contraband charges, Hubbard said he didn't know what they were talking about.
Amerson said that, in all fairness, Hubbard probably wasn't aware of the contraband charges that have not been pursued because he does not screen the warrants; his assistants do.
"We're glad we're able to get a warrant and will continue to pursue them with the DA's support," Amerson said. "We will continue to present the cases on promoting prison contraband to magistrates to pursue warrants on every one of them."
Because the weapons are usually plastic forks and pens, he said prosecutors may think they're benign, which could explain why more charges are not pursued.
As far as who asked for the charges, the sheriff said he believes his office was contacted after the sentencing and encouraged to get the warrants. He said he thought Oden was asked by the judge to be in court for Price's sentencing.
Wade maintains that corrections officers are doing all they can to prevent contraband in the jail. But with as few as four officers overseeing some shifts, it's hard to keep tabs on everyone.
"You can't stop it unless you're going to keep an eye on someone 24 hours a day," Wade said. "And the jail is full of a lot of people who aren't nice. Many are inmates who don't follow rules; otherwise they wouldn't be in jail."