King County jail officers to carry Tasers

Starting Wednesday, some corrections officers in the King County jails will begin carrying Tasers to help handle unruly inmates.

When a riot erupted in March 2010 at the King County Jail in downtown Seattle, corrections officers confronted the disturbance with pepper spray and physical force.

Ultimately, Seattle police and a sheriff’s SWAT team were called in to help restore order, but not before windows were smashed, metal doors were damaged and toilets were flooded. Fifteen inmates were accused of participating and damage was estimated at nearly $13,000.

Starting Wednesday, some corrections officers at the county’s jails will begin carrying Tasers to help prevent similar situations, said King County Jail Cmdr. William Hayes. County corrections officers do not carry handguns.

“It’s something the department has wanted to implement for years because it’s a nonlethal way to control inmates,” Hayes said. “When you have to go into a situation that has multiple inmates, pepper spray is not always a good option because you don’t always get close enough [for the spray to work].”

Metropolitan King County Executive Dow Constantine wasn’t required to approve the addition of Tasers, but “is aware” of the change, said county spokeswoman Christine Lange.

“It’s a very prudent safety measure for our officers,” Lange said.

A dozen Tasers have been purchased for the downtown jail and for the jail at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Hayes said. Tasers will be assigned only to supervisors, and some will be stored in weapons closets.

Hayes said that Tasers are in use at the Pierce County Jail. A spokesman for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said they’re used in that county’s jail in Everett as well.

Hayes said that the decision to add Tasers was not influenced by the slaying of state Department of Corrections Officer Jayme Biendl at the Monroe Correctional Complex in January. A prison inmate has been charged in her slaying.

Since Biendl was killed, Gov. Chris Gregoire has been pushing to arm state corrections officers with pepper spray. Department of Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail said on Tuesday that prison SWAT teams and officers who handle major disruptions already have access to Tasers but they are not assigned out for regular use in those facilities.

Currently, corrections officers are not armed with guns, but they do have access to secured weapons-storage areas, and some prisons have armed officers on towers.

Vail said the agency is considering the addition of Tasers for community corrections, or probation, officers on the streets.

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