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Nov 20, 2014 5:53 PM

Grand jury: No charges in Florida jail explosion

The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) A grand jury concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to bring criminal charges in an explosion at a Florida jail that killed two inmates and paralyzed a guard, according to a report released Thursday.

The explosion ripped through the jail's bottom floor on April 30, a day after torrential rain left 2 feet of water in the building's basement. The blast injured 200 people at the Escambia County Jail.

The grand jurors concluded that "criminal charges are not appropriate," and issued a number of recommendations for Escambia County officials as they rebuild the jail in Pensacola.

In the report released by the State Attorney's Office, the grand jury noted that a spark from an unknown source ignited natural gas and caused the explosion.

Sheriff David Morgan had no comment on the report.

The report also noted that a flood in June 2012 damaged the basement area of the Central Booking and Detention Center, which housed the kitchen and laundry facilities along with boilers and electrical equipment. Morgan recommended then that everything should be relocated to a higher level. An architect working on the renovation project also shared the same opinion.

The grand jury noted that commissioners decided to "rebuild the basement in the same or similar condition as it was prior to the 2012 flood."

In October 2013, the custody and control of the central booking and detention center was transferred from the sheriff to the commission. The reconstruction project was completed in April and placed back into use just before the flood. Work, however, was continuing on the flood mitigation project, which included two pumps to remove water from the back of the building.

As the rain continued on April 29, the basement flooded again and the building lost power. It was operating on a diesel generator and plumbing was no longer operational. Food was being brought from the main jail for inmates housed in the unit.

The report notes that as of 2:15 a.m. on April 30, the clothes dryers were floating in the water and records indicate a spike in the amount of natural gas flowing into the building. That continued throughout the day until a spark caused the explosion.

Inmates told the media, attorneys and family members that they smelled gas hours before the explosion.

Grand jurors offered a number of recommendations, including returning supervision of the facility to the Escambia County sheriff and that the new jail shouldn't be built at the site. They also suggest having a safety officer designated on each shift and that training should take place regularly.

Jurors said they believe the basement of the detention center should have never been rebuilt following the 2012 flood.

In addition to finding insufficient evidence to bring charges, the grand jury commended the corrections officer and staff for "the outstanding job they did under the most difficult of circumstances caused by the flood and explosion."


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