Autauga County Sheriff Mark Harrell is still at odds with the county commission weeks after Harrell evacuated the county jail until health and safety hazards, like prolific black mold, are addressed.

Harrell announced the evacuation of the Autauga County Jail on June 6, relocating inmates to other facilities until the facility can be restored to a safe state.

Shortly after the evacuation, the jail and courthouse underwent testing to measure the proliferation and damage caused by mold and other hazards. Both the county commission and Harrell commissioned separate testing from different companies to test the level of contamination, with both presenting seemingly conflicting reports.

Childersburg-based A Plus Cleaning & Restoration conducted the study on behalf of the sheriff’s office, and the commission used Montgomery-based Environmental Materials Consultants (EMC) to study the mold.

The A Plus report states that mold had affected nearly every area of the jail and that evacuation was necessary. There was not a troubling concentration of airborne mold spores found in A Plus’s tests. However, A Plus stated that mold spores only go airborne after eliminating the moisture source. The moisture is due to a dysfunctional HVAC system that has been unaddressed for years.

The report also states that several areas in the jail contain Stachybotrys, also called black mold. Black mold is commonly recognized as the most dangerous mold species. Spores from this mold produce mycotoxins, poisonous to humans if inhaled, eaten or touched.

The entire A Plus report on the jail and courthouse, which includes pictures, can be found below


A Plus Jail Report. by Craig Monger on Scribd

A Plus Courthouse, Sheriff's Building Report. by Craig Monger on Scribd

In contrast, the EMC report gave a more vague description of the mold problem, opining in the report that most mold is normal and does not illicit negative health consequences.

“Mold is present in most environments around the world,” The EMC report states. “There are thousands of types of mold with many types of subspecies. Everyone is exposed to molds spores in office buildings, stores, restaurants, in their homes and every day in the natural environment. The types of mold identified at the time of this assessment are very typical and extremely common for most indoor air environments, especially in Alabama. Most individuals with healthy immune systems do not exhibit health concerns or reactions under certain conditions and where spore counts stay within a normal or average range.”

The EMC report acknowledged the presence of black mold but called it “rare.”

A full copy of the EMC report to the county commission can be found below.

EMC Report. by Craig Monger on Scribd

Both companies suggested repairs to the HVAC system and other safety procedures, with A Plus recommending a more thorough and extreme treatment plan. EMC did not state if they believed the building should be evacuated. However, it did agree with A Plus in suggesting that proper PPE, including N95 masks or respirators and disposable clothes, be worn by any individuals in the building until repairs are made.  

Both companies also observed the Autauga County Courthouse. Similarly, EMC claimed no visible mold was present, while A Plus said some mold was present. EMC stated it found “dusty conditions” on air diffusers and suspended ceiling tiles outside the courtroom, while A Plus stated mold dust and debris on all the vents. A Plus also recommended replacing interiorly insulated ductwork and all porous materials affected by mold. This would include ceiling tiles, sheetrock, clothing, and any other organic materials.

On a Thursday appearance on Talk 93.1, “News and Views,” with Joey Clark, Harrell was joined by the sheriff’s attorney, Dwight “Tray” Richardson, to discuss the ongoing battle. Harrell said he has tried to address the situation since being appointed to the office in January 2023 after the death of his predecessor.  

According to Harrell, the decision to evacuate the jail came after a lengthy process of trying to get work with the commission to no avail. He also stated that the relocation of the 168 inmates at the jail was executed without incident.

“I had to make a decision,” Harrell said. “I knew I made the right decision no matter what was said in the public.”

“I had to weigh the good with the bad. The good was that I was protecting people, and that’s what I was going to do first is protect people,” he continued.

Richardson also backed Harrell’s decision to evacuate, stating that leaving inmates and employees in a potentially dangerous environment could leave the sheriff’s office open to litigation.

Harrell and Richardson expressed disbelief at the lack of attention paid to the mold problem, both claiming the commission did not acknowledge the severity of the issue, except Commissioner Larry Stoudemire. Not just the mold but also significant rust, a non-functioning fire alarm, and more.

“The county’s own insurance company noted much of these things and the county’s been on notice and aware of it,” Richardson said. “One of them being, like the sheriff was saying, was rusted doors. And their insurance company was very explicit that that needed to be taken care of as it presented a risk to everyone in there. Not only because of sharp, rusted edges, but it’d be a place for someone to conceal a weapon or contraband. So, the sheriff is doing everything he can here, but, I mean, what’s the guy supposed to do when he’s crying from the rooftops for help, and nobody’s helping him.”

Harrell said he intends to return inmates to the jail only after the issues referenced in the report are addressed.

“It’s not a short process,” Harrell concluded. “I’m not a construction worker, and I don’t see a short-term fix that anybody’s going to be back in that jail. I’m just going to do what I can to make sure when we do go back in that jail, my moral compass is spinning in a right way to be able to do that.”

After the initial evacuation, the commission released a statement, saying that would be its last word on the subject, offering no additional comment.

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