Okmulgee County courthouse flooding prompts judge to shut down portion of county jail

Monday, July 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Some flooding in Okmulgee hit the third floor of the courthouse - but it wasn't because of rain.

News on Six reporter Emory Bryan says Okmulgee has a county courthouse typical of many small Oklahoma towns. The jail is on the top floor. That means if inmates do something to the plumbing - every room in the courthouse is at risk.

Judge Michael Claver's courtroom sits directly underneath the county jail. Over the weekend, inmates broke up some water pipes - flooding the jail, and Claver's courtroom. "And they've flooded the north cell block of the jail and all the water came down and wiped out tables, benches chairs, the whole nine yards."

This isn't the first time this courtroom has flooded, and sometimes it's not just plain water. Sometimes it's sewage raining down from the ceiling. And next-door in the court clerks office - old records in filing cabinets sit in a thin layer of water, at least they hope its water. Lisa Laughlin, Court Clerk: "We've had paperwork discolored to the point that you know its sewer that's coming down.”

This time the flooding damaged records, ruined carpeting, and closed down a courtroom. The judge asked for an investigation - and ordered the part of the jail above him closed. Okmulgee County Sheriff Ernest Arocha, "We make 15 minute rounds, but they know when the rounds are being made and that's when the damage is done."

The sheriff says it's impossible to determine which inmate is doing the damage when none of them will talk. He says a new jail - now under construction - is the only solution. But the judge won't wait. "Don't care where they go but they're not going to have access to ruin this part of the courthouse anymore."

The judge set a hearing July 11th for arguments over whether that section of the jail should remain closed. The sheriff says he doesn't know what he's going to do with the inmates, since the old jail is already overcrowded.