Daggett County puts its troubled jail up for sale, but locking down a buyer won’t be easy

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Daggett County jail outside Manila, as seen in 2007. The facility, closed since 2017, has gone up for sale.

You might call it “a fixer-upper.”

The Daggett County jail, west of Manila in eastern Utah, has gone up for sale as county leaders struggle to pay off a bond on the troubled facility, closed since 2017 after an inmate-abuse scandal.

Two buildings, totaling 17,680 square feet. Rural location. Views from most "rooms" are limited. Asking price: $4.45 million.

“There are challenges,” said Nate Worthen, real estate agent with Newmark Grubb ACRES, the Salt Lake City-based commercial brokerage hired to help sell the property. “But those challenges are someone’s opportunity, at least that’s how we see it.”

Worthen said the 80-bed jail has been listed since last Wednesday after the Daggett County Commission voted in August to sell. Commissioners, he said, have envisioned it as a private jail or a rehabilitation center and even converting it to residential units.

Seeking to market the sale widely, Worthen said he recently posted the listing on Facebook — and it went viral.

“We had hundreds, if not thousands, of comments,” the agent said. Suggestions on social media ranged from turning it into a wedding hall or a recreation center to converting it into an Airbnb rental.

“There are so many different ideas out there,” Worthen said. A few offers have come in, he said, and officials are vetting those for their long-term viability.

"The county is not interested in having another defunct facility," said Worthen.

The lockup was shuttered amid inmate torture allegations that saw then-Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen, sheriff’s Lt. Benjamin Lail, and deputies Joshua Cox, Rodrigo Toledo and Logan Walker plead guilty to various criminal misconduct and assault charges.

Former inmates detailed harrowing treatment at the hands of guards, including being repeatedly stunned with Tasers and being forced to act as test dummies in K-9 police dog “training” exercises.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, whose office filed criminal charges in the case, called the actions “inexcusable” and said the behavior of at least one of the defendants was “unbelievably inhumane conduct and a reprehensible miscarriage of justice.”

State officials ordered the jail closed in February 2017. County inmates are now being housed at the Uintah County jail in Vernal, a 90-minute drive away. Daggett County Commissioners Jack Lytle, Randy Asay and Clyde Slaugh did not returns calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Worthen said the commission’s primary reason for trying to sell the property is paying off a 20-year-old bond debt incurred to build the jail. With the facility closed, the county is forgoing revenues from renting out space to house state inmates. The bond payments, Worthen said, have become “a significant burden.”

"They're motivated," the agent said. "They're not going to be too picky."

There are other challenges, too. With a population of barely 1,000 residents, Daggett County lacks a deep labor pool. That and the rural location make the prospect of turning the jail into a commercial venture harder to pull off. And on top of the purchase price, a buyer will need to renovate the site for reuse.

Worthen said if a purchase can’t be consummated, the county will consider leasing the property or even reopening it as a jail. But for now, he said, hopes center on a sale, which would not be unheard of.

In April, a Portland, Ore.-based real estate developer bought Multnomah County’s Wapato Detention Facility near Vancouver for $5 million, less than a tenth of its original construction price of $58 million. Though developer Marty Kehoe said at the time he planned to demolish the 155,400-square-foot facility and use the land for commercial purposes, he instead sold the site a few months later to another investor — at the same price.

Discussions are now said to be underway for converting the Wapato jail into a homeless shelter or a substance-abuse recovery center.