Riverside Regional Jail’s superintendent said in her resignation letter that the facility’s operations are plagued by dysfunction and a toxic work climate arose after the jail’s governing body failed to support her reform efforts.
“Rather than assist and support my efforts to bring this jail into compliance, the Board has instead created working conditions that are so intolerable I am forced to resign,” Col. Carmen I. DeSadier, whose sudden departure came after only nine months on the job, wrote in her Feb. 7 resignation letter.
DeSadier provided the resignation letter to the Richmond Times-Dispatch through one of her top commanders, who resigned Jan. 21 with similar concerns.
The Riverside Regional Jail Authority, made up of local officials and sheriffs in seven area localities, unanimously accepted DeSadier’s resignation Thursday after a special session that was closed to the public and lasted an hour and 45 minutes.
“I will say the resignation caught me by surprise,” said Chesterfield Sheriff Karl Leonard, who serves as one of two Chesterfield representatives on the board. “Obviously I had hoped for her success as Chesterfield County has the majority of inmates at Riverside — around 600 — and those inmates are entrusted to my care as are the nearly 400 at our jail” in the county.
Authority Chairman John Altman, who is Hopewell’s city manager, did not return messages seeking comment. On Thursday, he and board attorney Jeff Gore refused to release the letter or comment on its contents because they said DeSadier’s resignation was a personnel matter.
DeSadier, who began work May 13 to essentially lead the jail in a new direction, said it became evident from her initial tour of the jail “that Riverside had experienced long term management neglect.”
“This observation over the coming months became more obvious as I discovered command staff unfamiliar with best practices in jail operations, unsanitary conditions of the physical plant, mental health inmates deteriorating in cells without access to hygiene accommodations, an inmate population subjected to long term lockdowns without access to recreation, an HR manager who lacks basic knowledge of jail staffing and HR functions, and finally an administrative services director who does not know the job functions of the employees she supervises,” DeSadier wrote.
Asked about DeSadier’s observations, Leonard said he walks daily through his own jail to ensure the facility is meeting standards. But as a board member for Riverside, he has not walked the halls of that jail and has no day-to-day knowledge of its operations.
DeSadier noted that within 30 days of her arrival, she was served with notification from the Virginia Board of Corrections that Riverside was being placed on probationary certification for three years following an investigation into the deaths of two inmates in incidents that occurred before her arrival. Shortly thereafter, DeSadier said, she was notified by the American Correctional Association that the jail’s re-accreditation was being withheld until a jail representative appeared to explain the sanctions imposed by the state corrections board.
Despite what she encountered and observed, DeSadier said she was committed “to bringing this agency and its default culture into compliance.”
“Although I expected to encounter some resistance, what was surprising to me was the depths of unethical behavior command and mid-level staff would engage in to preserve the status quo,” she wrote.
DeSadier, who has 35 years of experience in corrections and has been certified as an American Correctional Association auditor, said she was even more surprised by the Riverside Regional Jail Authority’s response to that behavior.
“I have been totally transparent with reporting to the Board my findings, observations, results of system checks and evaluations of staff performance, irrespective of how atrocious those conditions have been,” she wrote.
But in response, DeSadier said in her letter that she was “subjected to false complaints, accusations, several inquisitions into my management practices and admonishment by the Board’s chairman, who while representing the Board, stated to me, ‘The Board has concerns and questions about your leadership ability, accountability, integrity and some of the answers that were given, there’s concerns as to whether they’re true or not.’”
DeSadier wrote that she expected the board to take seriously any complaints it received and investigate them accordingly.
But DeSadier said what she didn’t anticipate was the board’s decision to hire an outside law firm to investigate “whether or not I had created a hostile work environment, retaliated against my subordinates, interfered with [the Family and Medical Leave Act] and violated the fair labor standards act.”
“Even though the investigation revealed I had not [made any violations], I have been subsequently questioned three times by the Board and required to submit a written response as well,” DeSadier wrote.
DeSadier crafted a 108-page written response, with supporting documentation, to the law firm’s report that investigated the internal complaints against her, and in it she outlined various conditions she found in the jail.
They included instances of staff misconduct, refusal by command staff to provide basic needs to inmates, violations of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, “deliberate misrepresentation by staff of my conduct,” and unethical behavior by the command staff, DeSadier wrote.
All those findings were submitted to the board, she said.
“The Board has spent five months and tens of thousands of dollars addressing the allegations by employees, only for it to be confirmed they have no basis,” DeSadier said in her letter. “Yet when I provide serious concerns regarding the state of the jail and the conduct of those responsible for its condition, I am not afforded an acknowledgement that the Board has received the information.”
Further, DeSadier said the board’s attorney told her that “The Board’s perspective is we’re hearing from people we respect and [have] been here a long time and the only thing that’s different in their career is the new superintendent.”
“The Board’s position has been made clear by this statement and its refusal to respond or even acknowledge my report after four weeks since its submission,” DeSadier wrote.
Maj. Michael Moore, whom DeSadier hired to join Riverside’s command staff, and who served as her assistant when the two were employed with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana, made similar comments about his experience at Riverside in his resignation letter.
“What makes the experience at RRJ unique, is that those without the knowledge are unwilling and have no desire to learn or obtain information necessary for the fulfillment of the RRJ mission,” Moore wrote. “In summary, I have found that the RRJ command and support staff lacked basic knowledge needed to perform their essential functions.”