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Watertown City Council to discuss jail issue Monday night

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WATERTOWN — City Council members Monday will discuss how to address a state directive prohibiting suspects arrested by city police officers from being held at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building before they are arraigned.

City Attorney Robert J. Slye will update the members on what he and Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen have learned about the issue from state Commission of Correction officials. Mr. Slye and Mr. Paulsen spoke Wednesday with a corrections attorney and an administrator.

Jefferson County and city officials are exploring ways to solve the problem. “We are looking at alternative plans on how to handle this,” Mr. Slye said, adding it might to take some time before a permanent solution can be found.

Mr. Slye declined to discuss what they learned until he consults with council members Monday night, although he said they will discuss what can be done in the interim.

During a Jan. 30 meeting about staffing levels at the jail, state Commission of Correction members told county officials that the way city suspects were held at the jail violated state corrections law, county officials said.

Little else was said about the issue until Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns sent a letter last week to Watertown Police Chief Gary R. Comins informing him that the jail would no longer supervise unarraigned individuals after April 15.

Jefferson County will have to request an amendment to the state law allowing inmates to be housed at the county jail until they are arraigned. The law so far has been amended to permit 14 counties to house unarraigned suspects in their jails.

The city has used one-half of an intake/holding area at the PSB since the building opened in 1992. The holding area, which comprises two single cells capable of holding two or three people and a larger group cell, is supervised by county corrections officers. Over the past 12 months, city police brought 885 pre-arraignment suspects to the PSB, according to Mr. Slye.

City police officers can set bail on suspects before they are arraigned, which allows the officers to place them in the county’s custody in one of the jail’s holding cells.

Sheriff’s deputies cannot set bail. They either must find a judge to arraign a suspect or release the suspect with an appearance ticket, depending on the alleged crime.

Arraignments for city police arrests must be held in Watertown City Court as required by the state.

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