Six On Your Side: Unsupervised Electra Inmates - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Six On Your Side: Unsupervised Electra Inmates

Email from Electra City Administrator Larry Pannell to City Commissioners Email from Electra City Administrator Larry Pannell to City Commissioners
On May 26, 2013 two inmates were left unsupervised for extended periods of time in the Electra Police Department.

Newschannel 6 received exclusive surveillance video from inside the department from an anonymous source. It shows Sergeant Billy Walker leaving two young men from Australia, who were arrested for drug possession, unattended numerous times.

The inmates had access to their personal belongings and were left right next to an unlocked door and a cabinet full of unsecured weapons.

The thought of what these men could have done in the time they were left alone made former Electra dispatcher Kristi Lorenson, who was on duty at the time, very nervous.

"It was scary. It was probably one of the first times I've ever been just like, 'Wow, what could have happened?'" said Lorenson. "It's not a scary place to be usually. You know, we feel secure up there; so whenever I realized what had taken place, yea it was scary."

Sergeant Walker also put the two inmates in the same cell, despite the fact they were supposed to be kept separate as officers continued their investigation.

When the officer who arrested the two men came into the station later that day, he asked the dispatcher on duty at the time, Myra Byrd, to pull the surveillance footage to figure out how the inmates came to be together in one cell.

They were floored by what they saw Sergeant Walker allowed the inmates to do over the span of about two hours. Besides leaving them unsupervised for about 40 minutes in total, Walker also allowed the inmates to go through their personal belongings and get cigarettes and a lighter. He took them outside the building to smoke and also gave them two water bottles. These are all things current Electra officer Chris Barnett said inmates are not normally allowed to access.

Walker also took the inmates off camera at one point. The area they are in that cannot be seen, has been identified as the restricted patrol area by current and former employees and Wichita County Sheriff David Duke, who now oversees operations at the department.  

Dispatcher Lorenson can be seen going into that area when the men are in there. She told Newschannel 6 she saw the inmates on one computer and Sergeant Walker on the other where he could not see what the inmates were viewing.

These computers are restricted and are only supposed to be used by officers, as they have confidential information on them. "That whole room is full of confidential information. We don't take them back there, we certainly would not let them play on our computers," said Byrd. "Never ever have access to the computers; that's never happened, ever," said Lorenson.

Byrd wrote a letter to Chief Johnny Morris saying the dispatchers felt uncomfortable working with Sergeant Walker because they felt he left them in harm's way by not monitoring inmates inside the station.

Chief Morris wrote a letter to City Administrator Larry Pannell the next day asking for Walker's immediate resignation. Pannell has still not responded nearly seven months later.

Pannell originally told Newschannel 6 on Dec. 2 that he did not respond because he could not get a response from Sergeant Walker. He said he reached out to him twice, but said he could not get in touch with him. This is despite the fact that Pannell confirmed Walker is still part time employee with the police department.

Two days later, when questioned about why Sergeant Walker had not been fired for blatantly ignoring the City Administrator's requests, Pannell completely changed his story. He said Walker had responded and that Pannell did not relay that message to anyone in the police department because Chief Morris was on medical leave at the time.

However, Pannell also confirmed that he has talked to Morris since he went on leave.

Pannell said Walker's response about the actions seen in the surveillance video was to say it was "standard operating procedure" put in place by Chief Morris and the Chief left whether supervising inmates was necessary up to the "officer's discretion." However, Officer Barnett said this is not Electra's policy.

Lorenson and Byrd also said everything in the police department had to go through Pannell first at the time of this incident. They said even internal memos had to be approved by Pannell before being sent out.

Officer Matt Wood relieved Sergeant Walker on duty that day. He can be seen in the video leaving the inmates alone for short periods of time as well. However, the former dispatchers told Newschannel 6 Officer Wood was verbally reprimanded for his actions by Chief Morris.

According to Byrd, the Chief handled Wood's punishment and did not ask for his resignation because Wood was brand new to the department. He also was reportedly following orders from his superior, Sergeant Walker, to continue treating the inmates in this manner.


Christina Myers
cmyers@kauz.com
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