Sheriff pulls jail training from Greenfield High School

  • Recruits stand back to back passing an exercise ball. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has been training correctional officers at Greenfield High School, but is moving the training back to the jail. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has been training correctional officers at Greenfield High School, but is moving the training back to the jail following complaints from residents. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sheriff Christopher Donelan, at left, works out with recruits at the Greenfield High School. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has been training correctional officers at the school, but is moving the training back to the jail following complaints from residents. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Participants move between exercise stations the Greenfield High School. The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has been training correctional officers at Greenfield High School, but is moving the training back to the jail. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • DONELAN

Staff Writer
Published: 6/23/2020 5:57:27 PM

GREENFIELD — The sheriff has ended training of his new correctional officers at the high school, moving the last four weeks of it to the jail.

Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan said the move elevates the health risks to the entire class and jail employees because they will be training in smaller spaces and interacting with many more people than they were at Greenfield High School, but it needed to be done because it has become a distraction.

Donelan referred to a complaint he received from a neighbor of the high school who said she was disturbed by the loud noises coming from the school, such as a drill sergeant’s screaming commands, and some of the gestures she observed from a distance.

Samantha Wood, former night managing editor at the Greenfield Recorder whose home abuts the property, said she would wake up — outdoor training began at 7 a.m. — to loud commands, and on the very first day of training, saw drill sergeants in the faces of recruits screaming commands and those recruits raising one arm high. Being of Jewish descent, she said she felt “very uncomfortable.”

Donelan explained recruits were being asked to show trainers what was in their duffel bags, but said he could understand the misunderstanding and what she thought she saw from a distance.

Wood said she also heard homophobic and sexist comments coming from trainers, which the sheriff said is another misunderstanding.

“There should be no militarized training of law enforcement, including correctional officers, and it should never be displayed in civic spaces,” Wood said. “That fundamentally disturbs the peace and it’s disrespectful. It’s meant to train soldiers. Law enforcement is play acting with its display of military drills and experiences. The military uses that type of training to protect spaces from military intrusions.”

Distraction

Donelan said he spoke with Wood during the first week of training and explained what was happening. He said soon city councilors, the Greenfield School Department and School Committee, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner and others became involved. Other residents throughout Greenfield who had spoken with Wood came to see the training for themselves and started writing letters to city officials and posting comments, photos and videos of the training on social media.

“It just became too much of a distraction,” Donelan said. “I had to think about my recruits and make sure that while they were getting the training they need, they were also not distracted, and neither were the trainers. We’ll make it work at the jail.”

Wood said, “It is of the utmost importance that we understand the relationships between the city, our schools and the jail. The labor of prison inmates is being used, at least by the schools, and we don’t know the terms of that labor and whether prisoners are being paid prevailing wages. I’m concerned about that as well, and whether what they’re doing is considered a ‘favor’ to the city.”

Superintendent Jordana Harper said the school was “being a good community partner” with the jail and the sheriff by providing the space.

“The sheriff and I have been in frequent communication regarding the use of the facilities for training, and he has actively worked with the schools to address any and all community concerns that have been brought forward regarding the training itself,” Harper said.

“At this time, he has informed me of his decision to move the training off the school grounds. I appreciate the sheriff’s responsiveness, and I support his decision.”

After Wood complained, recruits spent as little time as possible, from 7 to 9 a.m., outdoors. The rest of each day was spent inside classrooms and the school gymnasium.

Other residents

Greenfield resident Fardeen Chowdhury said he and his wife, Sarah Adam, learned about the training through Wood. He said they visited the school after learning that Donelan had “tossed off” Wood’s concerns.

“We walked the track at the high school one morning during that first week,” he said. “There were different people of different ages sharing the track with us. The training was loud and aggressive. That shouldn’t be happening in a public space.”

Greenfield resident Ilene Stahl said she and her husband, Benjamin Miner, were also made aware of the training and visited the area while it was happening. They observed military-type training that was “troubling and intimidating.”

“While the rest of the country is protesting things like this, we’ve got training happening in our backyard,” she said.

Adam and Miner both said the training was “too intense” and it bothered them. Miner wrote a My Turn column in the Greenfield Recorder explaining what he saw and heard, and why it should not be held at the school or in any public space.

“One of the reasons I wrote the mayor, City Council and state legislators is because it was so disturbing,” he said. “This is standard training here? Statewide? Maybe nationwide? That’s frightening.”

Sheriff proudof training efforts

Donelan said planning for the training began in December and it was to happen on Elm Street at the jail, but was delayed and almost canceled because of COVID-19. Then, the school district agreed to allow it there because the jail space was being used as a COVID-19 unit, in case there was an outbreak, which never happened.

“People could safely separate themselves at the school,” he said. “Students’ temperatures are taken before each class Monday through Friday, and they are asked to practice all safety measures at home throughout the training.”

Donelan said he is “very proud” of the training done at the sheriff’s office and of the trainers who put many hours into preparing students to be correctional officers.

“The majority of our training focuses on helping the most vulnerable in our care,” he said.

“Our curriculum is updated yearly. We educate our officers to be sensitive to the impact of substance abuse and mental health issues. They are taught about bias and to be respectful, nonjudgmental and always helpful. When words fail and violence breaks out, they are trained on de-escalation techniques and the use of non-lethal force.”

Donelan said, for instance, there was a riot that broke out in the jail several years ago, and if correctional officers didn’t have what people are referring to as “military-type” training, there could have been many more injuries or worse.

“They have to be able to take orders without question,” he said. “They have to be able to act quickly in a situation like that, or someone could get seriously hurt. That’s why we do that training people saw. I understand that people in Franklin County are disturbed by what they see going on in Minneapolis and Atlanta — they should be — but that’s not Franklin County.

“Our police and corrections training is so much more thoughtful and progressive,” Donelan continued. “The type of behavior people are seeing on TV does not exist in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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