Arpaio orders detention officer to stay home after trip to West Africa

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has ordered a detention officer who just returned from West Africa to stay home for 21 days.

The officer was visiting family members who reside in the Ebola-stricken West African nation of Sierra Leone where more than 1,000 people have died from the virus, according to the sheriff's office.

Arpaio said the officer was scheduled to return to duty on Wednesday at one of the jails where more than 700 inmates are housed and 100 employees work.

"The decision to bar this employee from the jails was made by Sheriff Arpaio to protect employees and inmates alike," Chief of Detention Mike Olson said. "A few employees voiced some concern to their supervisors indicating that they may refuse to work if this employee is allowed in the jails during the incubation period. We cannot afford to have a work disruption nor can we risk even the slightest potential of introducing Ebola into the jails."

According to the sheriff, the employee's return flight route Monday brought him from Sierra Leone to Belgium where he was cleared to fly by Center for Disease Control (CDC) officials.

He then went on to Washington Dulles International Airport where again his temperature was taken before being questioned and cleared by CDC authorities to return to Phoenix. CDC officials gave him a thermometer and told him to self-monitor for the next three weeks.

Arpaio said the employee has agreed to remain home for the 21-day incubation period during which time he will be on administrative leave. He will be allowed to return to work after Nov. 12 if he shows no signs of the virus.

"Corrections officials throughout the United States have a growing concern about how to deal with Ebola should the virus gain more traction here," Arpaio said. "Jails are a unique environment. They are a closed system. Inmates cannot simply leave because they fear a disease outbreak. Jails have to react quickly and definitely to prevent the possibility of transmission."

The officer travels to Sierra Leone annually and has worked for the sheriff's office since 2006.