RALEIGH, N.C. — The section of the Wake County jail where a riot erupted Wednesday morning was over capacity with men accused of violent crimes. Authorities said 17 of the 41 inmates were sleeping on the floor.
But Sheriff Donnie Harrison said that although crowding can cause tempers to flare, it did not play a role in the fray that left one detention officer hospitalized and 13 inmates facing charges of felony rioting and assault on a government official.
"You are going to have this," Harrison said. "In every jail in the state, this is going to happen at some point in time."
The riot remains under investigation but may have been sparked by a dispute over laundry, said Phyllis Stephens, spokeswoman for the Wake Sheriff's Office. "It may have been about laundry not received, that they thought they were getting," Stephens said.
The eighth-floor pod or cellblock where the incident occurred is part of a maximum-security complex that includes five floors of the Wake County Public Safety Center in downtown Raleigh. The facility has four pods on each floor, each pod designed to hold 24 inmates.
But part of one floor and all of another have been closed for renovations, contributing to overcrowding on the eighth floor. The jail population at the time of the riot was 577 - 97 over capacity.
The county detention system also includes two minimum-security facilities that can hold up to 416 inmates each. Both are under capacity, but can't be used to ease overcrowding downtown because the sheriff's office doesn't want to mix maximum security criminals with less violent offenders.
"We keep them here because of their tendency to not get along with others," Harrison said from the Public Safety Center.
Wake has been aggressive in its long-term planning for jail capacity compared to many local governments, said Stephen Carter, a principal at Carter Goble Lee, a criminal justice consulting firm in Columbia, S.C., that has advised Wake County for years in the planning of its jails.
Because of anticipated growth, Wake is moving ahead with plans for its largest jail so far. County officials are expected to decide in the next three months which architectural firm to hire to design the new jail, which will have at least 720 beds and will house processing, medical, food preparation and other services now provided downtown.
Eleven inmates were charged Wednesday morning with felony rioting and assaulting officers at the jail. Two more, including a federal prisoner, were expected to be charged by Thursday morning, Stephens said.
Andrew Deshawn Canty was among those charged. Canty is awaiting trial in the death of Paul Berkley, 46, who was shot and stabbed in a North Raleigh park days after he returned home from Iraq.
Three detention officers were injured. One officer, Kenneth Ackerman, was treated at WakeMed hospital and released. He suffered an eye injury and cuts to the face, authorities reported.
Ackerman has been working at the jail for six months, Stephens said. The other officers involved were Michael Hayes, who has been with the sheriff's office for one and a half years, and Lonnie Johnson, an 18-year employee, Stephens said.
The incident began shortly after midnight. Stephens said an inmate assaulted Ackerman as he tried to lock down a detention pod for the night.
"Others joined in," Stephens said, and Hayes and Johnson came to Ackerman's aid.
The 11 charged so far are accused of using their fists to assault the officers. Most of the inmates appeared morose as they stood before a magistrate Wednesday morning.
One of them, Jamal Lamont Sims, 19, accused the detention officers of assaulting the inmates as he was led away.
"They be beating us upstairs," Sims told the magistrate. "They beating us! Beating us!"
Harrison denied the allegation.
Raleigh News & Observer staff writer Martha Quillin and news researcher Lamara Williams Hackett contributed to this report.