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Union County Sheriff's Office: Inmates destructed jail's video surveillance

On Wednesday, an inmate escaped from the Union County Jail. USCO told 10Investigates there's no video "due to destruction of the cameras by the inmates."

UNION COUNTY, Tenn. — The Union County Sheriff's Office said an inmate escaped from its county jail in Maynardville on Wednesday. On Thursday, 10Investigates requested video footage from the escape.

Authorities said it doesn't exist.

"Unfortunately there isn't any video surveillance due to destruction of the camera's by the inmates," UCSO wrote back.

It's unclear how long the cameras have been down, but 10News first learned of possible concerns with the jail's video system in late May, when a viewer called to report inmates "ripping out cameras."

At the time, jail staff said there was no disorder among the inmates.

10Investigates called Sheriff Billy Breeding Thursday night and Friday morning but had not heard back as of 5 p.m. on Friday. Reporters also sent two emails to the sheriff's office. 

"The inmates appear to be running the asylum in Union County," attorney T. Scott Jones said, adding that cameras are critical to a jail's safety. "It's a threefold set of circumstances —one to protect the inmates themselves. Two: to protect the public and then also for informational purposes for law enforcement to protect themselves."

Those protections can help maintain a jail's safety.

“While surveillance equipment in county jails may not be mandated by state law, it may certainly impact a jail's funding from state and even federal entities following annual inspections from the Tennessee Corrections Institute," attorney Lance Baker said. "When it is widely known that no such equipment exists or works properly, it creates a danger to all, including the public.”

The most recent jail summary report from the Tennessee Department of Corrections — published with data from May 2023 — showed the Union County Jail is a certified facility.

It was last inspected in October 2022, records show. In May, it was at 130% capacity. 10Investigates has requested the full inspection report from the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

Union County said it is no longer looking for the inmate that escaped but did not respond to questions about whether they found that inmate. 

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