Kent sheriff deputies will not transport inmates, court confirms

DOVER — The Kent County Sheriff ’s Office hasn’t transported prisoners in nearly 10 years, and that’s set to continue after a recent good faith commitment.

In a memorandum of understanding, Superior Court assured that “Kent County … judges would not now, or in the future, request that the Kent County Sheriff transport a prisoner.

Brian Lewis

“The transportation of prisoners is within the purview of the Department of Correction.”

Citing safety concerns for his deputies, Sheriff Brian Lewis had pushed to officially erase the transport option from Delaware Code.

State Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, sponsored House Bill 332 to eliminate transports but said the MOU allayed any concerns. The matter won’t be further pursued unless other issues arise, he said.

The MOU on June 22 from Superior Court Chief of Staff Attorney Linda Carmichael noted the written confirmation was designed to eliminate Sheriff Lewis’s concerns and that “the Court can request HB 332 be tabled …”

The decision was made after Superior Court President Judge Jan R. Jurden conferred with Kent County’s judges, according to Ms. Carmichael.

While the sheriff said he was “satisfied” with the outcome, he’s added “I would still like it to be stricken from (Delaware Code) to assure that it’s done with.”

Mr. Lewis said he checked with sheriffs in New Castle and Sussex counties while researching statewide transport situations. He found that the New Castle County office already had an MOU in place.

In January, Sheriff Lewis was contacted by newly-appointed Delaware Capitol Police Chief Michael Hertzfeld with a request to discuss the possibility of the agencies partnering together on a prisoner exchange in the Kent County Courthouse.

With current Kent County vehicles not properly equipped with partition cage or window barriers, however, Sheriff Lewis did not believe any program was feasible. Also, he noted that department vehicles are not officially marked, and deputies have neither arrest powers or recent training in restraints.

Also, the sheriff said, “If a deputy was required to transport a prisoner it would take away from his or her duties serving various legal documents from the courts some which are time sensitive. Each deputy has an assigned service area that is split up in the county.”

On Thursday, Chief Hertzfeld said Capitol Police are not seeking any potential transport agreement with the sheriff’s office.

With 12 years in the office, Chief Deputy Chris White had transportation duties when stationed at the Kent County Courthouse. With current vehicles including two single-cab pickup trucks and others without sufficient safety equipment, returning was not a viable option, he said.

Though current sheriff’s staff members are former police officers, Mr. White said “Even if a prisoner is handcuffed it could be a problem.”

According to the original synopsis of HB 332, “This Act removes obsolete language. Sheriffs are not equipped to safely transport prisoners and no sheriff has done so in nearly 10 years.

“This Act also makes a technical correction to conform existing law to the standards of the Delaware Legislative Drafting Manual.”

Currently, Kent County deputies are tasked with serving criminal- and civil-related paperwork, including subpoenas, out of state Family Court orders, foreclosure notices, among other documents.

While they may encounter residents in stressful situations Chief Deputy White said, “For the most part the public realizes we’re just the messengers.

“A good percentage of the time we’re the bearers of bad news, they’re not really wanting to see us. We typically can establish a good report and deputies are trained how to talk and verbally de-escalate any anger issues somebody may have.”