RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News first reported on polygraph tests within Richmond’s jail last Tuesday after receiving several complaints from sheriff’s deputies. Now, the leader of the jail, Sheriff Antionette Irving, is justifying her decision to force staff members to take them.

“We polygraph employees because of safety and security,” Irving said. “We have a right to polygraph. We have a right to ask the questions.”

She said polygraph tests are standard practice during ongoing investigations as a way to “know if things are coming through the front door, the back door, or the mail.”

However, 8News received inside reports that the tests were to find out whether deputies were speaking to the media about issues going on within the jail.

The tests also came on the same day that Councilwoman Reva Trammell penned a letter to the state spotlighting issues within the jail and demanding an investigation. The letter, addressed to Robert Mosier with the Public Safety and Homeland Security office, cited the three inmate deaths in 2022 and a growing number of deputy assaults.

“If you are wondering what deputies who work at the jail and families of those who are incarcerated have in common, it is fear for the safety of those who work or are imprisoned within the confines of the Richmond City Jail,” Trammell wrote in the letter.

In a previous interview with 8news, Trammell said, “The war is on. You caused every bit of this, Sheriff. You caused this.”

On Monday, Irving fired back on the “negativity” coming from city leaders and said she has invited them to tour the jail.

She also acknowledged the deputy assaults, but said they do not happen often. However, records obtained from an inside source show several deputy injuries by inmates in the past month.

“We’ve only had a few major assaults. We have had little incidents take place, but they haven’t resulted in injury,” Irving said.  “We’re doing a good job collectively to keep all of us safe.”

Sources also detailed a situation from this past weekend, saying a deputy attempted to confiscate a cell phone from an inmate and was subsequently surrounded by inmates carrying knives.

Irving believes much of the violence within the walls of the jail stem from the violence on the street. She said the majority of Richmond’s inmates are between 18-35 and incarcerated for violent crimes, including murder.

She also added that staffing shortages and retention remain an issue. The jail reports 168 vacancies out of 385. When asked if safety concerns and morale issues could be a factor, Irving said public safety jobs are high stress, but she is working to fill positions.

8news reached out to the Virginia Board of Local and Regional Jails, but it’s unclear if and when the state investigation will begin.