Meadville Tribune

Local News

June 11, 2012

County OKs new camera system for jail

MEADVILLE — Crawford County commissioners have agreed to purchase a new camera system for the Crawford County jail, nearly 20 months after the death of a corrections officer in the line of duty, but it wasn’t a unanimous purchase decision.

Commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday for the purchase and installation of a digital camera system from Intertech Security of Pittsburgh at a total cost of $281,952.68 which includes $38,205.68 for three years of enhanced post-warranty service on a 24-hours a day basis.

The county opted to go with Intertech though it was $105.68 more than a quote by Securus, a division of Mobilcom of Meadville. Securus’ quote offered three years’ service following the warranty, but was only during normal weekday business hours.

Commissioners Francis Weiderspahn Jr. and Jack Lynch voted for the measure while Commissioner C. Sherman Allen voted against it.

Allen stressed he wasn’t against the camera project at all, but Allen said he had been approached recently by a local businessman that the county may save money by seeking quotes from additional vendors from the Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, N.Y., areas.

Allen said he was approached after stories about the potential purchase appeared in The Meadville Tribune.

“It really hurts me not to,” Allen said of why he wouldn’t vote for the contract with Intertech Security. “But, I think it’s way —and I’ll stress — way overdue to have these cameras in our correctional facility.”

On Oct. 13, 2010, Crawford County Corrections Officer Gary Chapin, 49, was fatally injured at the jail by then-inmate Gregory G. Brown, who was an inmate at the Crawford County jail while Chapin was working as a corrections officer that night.

Brown is serving a two and one-half to five-year sentence following his conviction last fall in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas on involuntary manslaughter in connection with Chapin’s death,

At Brown’s trial, the Crawford County District Attorney’s Office argued that Brown threw Chapin violently to the floor while Chapin was trying to handcuff Brown.

However, Brown’s defense attorneys argued Brown and Chapin got their legs tangled up as Chapin was attempting to handcuff Brown and that the incident was an accident.

Chapin never regained consciousness following the incident and died of his injuries Nov. 15, 2010.

In the wake of Chapin’s death, the county’s risk assessment consultants recommended the county upgrade the jail’s video system.

Weiderspahn said that the camera situation at the jail has been in the news for more than a year and was even an issue among commissioner candidates in 2011.

“To me, they can’t use the excuse they just saw it in the paper,” Weiderspahn said. “They could have contacted us before this.”

Weiderspahn said the closeness of the quotes between Intertech Security and Securus showed the companies had done their due diligence.

Tim Kelley, the county’s information technology director, said the vendors for the camera system were on the state list pre-qualified vendors — meaning they met state standards for such a system.

Kelley pointed out any business may get on the pre-qualification list if they meet the state standard for that particular item.

Installation of the new camera system will take about two and one-half months to complete once the county gives a notice to proceed within the next few weeks.

Cameras, which will be placed to provide more complete coverage of the facility than the present system, will constantly record images which will automatically be stored for 30 days.

The current system has 19 camera locations while the new digital system will have a total of 64 cameras — replacing the current 19 and adding 45 more.

One area cameras won’t monitor, however, is the interior of individual cells, where surveillance cameras are prohibited by privacy regulations, according to jail officials.

Crawford County jail Warden Tim Lewis told the county’s prison board at its May meeting that the new cameras, had they been in place, could not have revealed inmate Ethan James VanDervort preparing for the recent suicide attempt that ultimately took his life.

The death of VanDervort, 29,  of Meadville, was ruled a suicide by Erie County Deputy Coroner Korac Timon. VanDervort died early May 22 at UPMC Hamot in Erie due to complications from a lack of oxygen to the brain because of asphyxiation caused by hanging. The Erie County Coroner’s Office had jurisdiction over the cause and manner of death, since VanDervort died in Erie County.

Preliminary investigation by Pennsylvania State Police found VanDervort was found hanging in his cell by a corrections officer minutes after a 2 p.m. inmate population count May 16. VanDervort was by himself in the cell at the time.

VanDervort was scheduled to go to trial in May in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas on rape and other charges filed by state police for allegedly assaulting a 28-year-old woman at a Cambridge Township home July 12, 2011. He was being held at the county jail in Saegertown in lieu of bond.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.

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