Sheriff says jail fire started because inmates upset about TV being taken away

Published 9:30 am Saturday, October 7, 2023

Four Troup County Jail inmates have been charged in connection to an alleged arson incident within the jail. The inmates were reportedly upset about losing their television privileges.

On Wednesday evening around  6:07 p.m., Detention officers learned of a possible fire in an inmate housing unit and discovered that inmates had allegedly attempted to intentionally set fire to some prison clothing.

A large amount of smoke was confirmed, so inmates were evacuated from the unit and the Troup County Fire Department was called to jail.

Jail staff entered the unit and later determined that inmate uniforms were smoldering on the floor and they were extinguished.

Sheriff James Woodruff said the jumpsuits never fully caught fire, but they did create a lot of smoke.

It was later determined that inmates had broken a light fixture and connected live wires to the clothing in an attempt to start a fire.

Jail staff do searches or cell inspections every day to prevent such incidents, but it’s nearly impossible to keep eyes on every inmate at all times.

“People like that just give us trouble after we put them in a cell by themselves, but we’ll continue to do our cell inspections every day,” Woodruff said.

Before the daily inspections, inmates would take light fixtures apart and use the wires to heat water and other stuff, Woodruff said.

Woodruff said this fire wasn’t an accident though. He believes the fire was set intentionally because the inmates involved were mad.

“I think they had gotten upset. They had gotten in trouble and we had taken their TV from them. That was part of them being upset, but they just decided to pull the wire out of a light fixture and spark it together and try to set something on fire,” Woodruff said.

The sheriff’s office isn’t considering changing the light fixtures to try to prevent these incidents, at least for now.

“We could try to install tamper-resistant or tamper-proof light fixtures, but there’s no telling how much it would cost to refit the entire jail to make sure an inmate could not tamper with them,” Woodruff said. “Because every time we do something, it’s like a chess game. They try to figure out a way around it.”

Even if they could keep them out of the fixtures, they could still find a way to break it, he said. It wouldn’t ever stop it completely.

Four inmates were charged related to the incident:

4 Jason Cofield was charged with first-degree arson, first-degree criminal damage, interference with government property and riot in a penal institute.

4 Travis Preston Shelnutt was charged with first-degree arson, first-degree criminal damage, interference with government property and riot in a penal institute.

4 Michael Dennis Cornett was charged with riot in a penal institute.

4 Edward Anthony Facille was charged with riot in a penal institute.