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Brown water stirs ‘mini-insurrection’ at jail in Cortez

Inmates of the Montezuma County Detention Center reacted angrily Thursday evening when brown water came through their taps. (Journal file photo)
Water line project stirs up sediment in pipes to Montezuma County Detention Center

A surge of pressure that stirred up sediment in a Cortez water line also stirred up inmates at the Montezuma County Detention Center on Thursday night, city and county officials said.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin said there was a “mini-insurrection” at the jail Thursday night because of brown-colored water coming from the taps.

“Nobody was hurt, and we got it calmed down and resolved,” he said.

Bottled water and Gatorade were distributed to the 85 inmates, Nowlin said. Jail staff worked to flush the water pipes, and the water cleared by midnight and was being used again.

Cortez Public Works Director Brian Peckins reported that crews were replacing old water lines near Mildred Road as part of a capital improvement project. When the system was turned back on, the pressure stirred up sediment in some water lines, which temporarily caused the murky water at the jail.

No outside contaminates entered the line, and the water had already passed through the water treatment plant, he said.

The control room at the Montezuma County Detention Center monitored a disruption by inmates over brown water coming from the taps Thursday. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Some inmates responded angrily about the murky water, Nowlin said.

The situation caused a ruckus of yelling and threats to jail staff in two pods that held a total of 32 inmates, Nowlin said.

Lockdowns were ordered, which requires inmates to return to their cells, but inmates in pods C and E refused, he said.

“We talked everyone down, gave out bottled water and Gatorade. They eventually complied and went back to their cells on their own,” he said.

Under a lockdown, meals and medications are distributed to each cell, Nowlin said, and they can also be ordered for safety reasons.

Jan 1, 2022
An inside peek into the Montezuma County jail

There were no arrests because of the incident. Inmates in one pod created a mess of paper and trash during the protest, but no damage, Nowlin said.

He said inmates who refused the order to return to their cells will face disciplinary consequences, which could include temporary loss of privileges.

Disciplinary measures follow National Jail Association, federal and state guidelines, Nowlin said.

“We’re back to routine operations,” he said. “We will review the incident and do some more training.”

Officers from the Sheriff’s Office and Cortez Police Department, and staff from the Cortez Fire Protection District and Southwest Health System Ambulance were staged near the jail in case needed, Nowlin said.

Amber Reynolds, the wife of an inmate, told The Journal at 6:30 p.m. Thursday that her husband said he had not had access to clean water for over one hour and needed it for medical purposes.

Nowlin said the jail has stocked up on bottled water in case the situation happens again.