The Bedford County commissioners suspended the county’s warden and one of his deputies on Monday pending a state assessment of operations at the Bedford County Correctional Facility.
Warden Troy Nelson and Deputy Warden Rocky Bernazzoli were both suspended, effective immediately, with pay Monday morning. The commissioners did not offer much detail about what prompted the suspension, other than saying it regarded operations at the jail.
“At this point, we’re going to let the DOC go through their organizational review,” Commissioner Josh Lang said. “We won’t be offering any additional information beyond what was in the (news) release.”
The commissioners issued a news release in the afternoon announcing the suspensions, stating the decision was based on “information” they had received. The board contacted Secretary John Wetzel of the state Department of Corrections earlier this month “seeking assistance in assessing operations” at the jail.
“We are glad to assist the county, and we believe these steps taken today provide a good opportunity for the county and correctional facility officials to get on the right path with respect to operating a sound prison,” Wetzel said in the release.
The county and the DOC will be entering into an intergovernmental agreement that authorizes the DOC to assess operations and to provide an acting warden for 30 days. Lang said that assessment could take longer.
“It could take anywhere from a month to a few months,” he said.
After a “thorough assessment” has been conducted, DOC officials will provide a report outlining any recommendations to the county, the commissioners said.
Bobbi Jo Salamon, deputy superintendent at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale, will oversee operations of county jail as acting warden. She will assess any security or operational needs and will report such needs to the DOC and county.
County officials will reimburse the DOC for Salamon’s salary. Salamon has an annual salary of $139,000, or about $11,500 per month, according to Lang.
The commissioners and DOC officials met with correctional facility employees and toured the jail on Monday following the suspensions of Nelson and Bernazzoli.
“We’re trying to be transparent with the community and the staff,” Commissioner Deb Baughman. “It’s important to have this review to make sure the operations are top quality at the jail.”
Lang noted the DOC has conducted similar assessments in other counties, including Blair County. The board in its release said the assessment was “highly recommended” by other counties’ commissioners.
District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts, chairwoman of the county prison board, said she has spoken with DOC officials and is confident in the assessment.
“On Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to meet with one of the individuals from the DOC who will be involved in the process,” she said. “I feel confident that the process will be unbiased and people who have first hand information to provide will be interviewed. The DOC has no preconceived ideas concerning the end result. Any recommendation they make to the Board of Commissioners will be based upon facts, not just speculation and conjecture.”
Nelson could not be reached for comment.