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Crime Lab to Investigate What May Have Caused Deputy to React When Opening Letter

Patti Singer

Update: The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office reported Sept. 30 that the substance encountered by a jail deputy while opening an inmate’s legal mail was analyzed by the Monroe County Crime Lab. The Sheriff’s Office reported that the substance came back negative, but did not elaborate and said it would not provide further updates.

A Monroe County Sheriff’s Office jail deputy is back at work as the investigation continues into what caused him to react to an unknown substance in a piece of legal mail sent to an inmate.

The deputy was opening the mail in front of the inmate according to protocol, at 11:25 a.m. Sept. 8, when his heart rate and blood pressure increased and he felt lightheaded. Sheriff’s Office Captain James McGowan on Sept. 9 said the deputy did not see or smell anything, but he felt something inside the envelope.

Monroe County jail. File photo

The deputy was seen by medical staff at the jail and taken to Strong Memorial Hospital. He was released later in the day.

McGowan did not identify the deputy or the inmate to whom the letter was addressed. McGowan said the letter was marked as legal mail and came from an attorney. McGowan did not name the attorney, but said the individual was interviewed.

“Our concern is not so much if the attorney sent something,” he said. “Our concern is someone trying to make something look like legal mail that’s actually not. At the time, we don’t know. If at some point there is concern with the law office, (the investigation) would lead that way.”

McGowan said the envelope is at the Monroe County Crime Lab for analysis. He said he did not know when the result would be available. He said no one else present was affected.

McGowan said the jail receives about 100 to 200 pieces of mail a day addressed to inmates, and all of it it opened before being delivered to the individual. The state Department of Corrections requires that mail from an attorney or legal organization be opened in the presence of the inmate. Jail staff can search the contents but not read anything. Mail from family and friends is opened in a safe area outside of the jail.

McGowan said that about once a day, something is found that’s not allowed. He said about once a week, some kind of illegal substance is found.

Jail staff takes precautions when opening that mail, but McGowan said he was unsure whether the deputy followed those same safety steps with the piece of legal mail. The envelope was placed in a biohazard bag and sent to the crime lab.