Although staff at the jail is chronically tight due to budget woes, Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said that is not to blame for an inmate’s suicide, nor will he push for more employees.
On March 25, inmate Robert Shutt, 37, of Gunnison, was found unconscious by a guard in a maximum-security cell in the Tooele County Detention Center. The guard attempted to revive Shutt with CPR until EMTs arrived, but he was pronounced dead about 25 minutes after the initial discovery.
Shutt had apparently strangled himself, and was alone in his cell. He was arrested on March 20 after allegedly robbing a business and three homes in north Tooele,
His death prompted an investigation and a review of policies and procedures at the jail. Park said the suicide, while unfortunate, is rare — the first in 15 to 20 years, by his estimate — and not attributed to tight staffing.
County budget cuts and staff reductions have left the jail without much wiggle room to keep posts manned, especially since two more employees left after workers were cut by the county, the sheriff said.
“Our need for more staff in the jail at this point in time is we’re OK. We’re down two individuals and we’re looking at replacing them,” he said. “It would be nice to have more employees, of course, but we can function fine without them, as long as our population remains where it’s at.”
The current guard staff allows the jail to safely hold about 150 inmates, Park said. Counting part-time employees, there are 33 members of the jail staff right now. Jail population on Thursday morning was 137.
Park said he thinks it’s unlikely Shutt’s death could have been prevented even with a full staff.
“I don’t think the staffing had anything to do with the suicide,” he said. “That’s always the problem with any part of society with a suicidal person. It’s a terrible consequence, but if somebody’s that determined, unless we know absolutely up front that this is a suicidal person, then we can take steps to monitor him or her 24-seven.”
Park said he is hopeful that the two vacant employee slots can be filled in the near future. But as far as asking Tooele County Commissioners for more staff, especially given the county’s budgetary situation, it can wait.
“The commissioners know we’re running our facility at the very, very minimum staff we can, so to bring something up like that would be redundant,” he said.