Jailhouse Paper Trail: Part III
Like most corrections facilities, the Wilson County Jail is basically an island if not an entire world unto itself.
Forbidding and mysterious to most of us, it's a world of raw reality which by its very nature is wholly self-contained, a world where dramas both large and small play out on an almost daily basis, well beyond the view of the average Wilson Countian.
Within the jail's closed society, guards impose the rules and inmates are expected to follow them or face consequences, usually in the form of suspension of privileges such as telephone use or television viewing, which many corrections experts cite as the best way to discipline prisoners.
And though guards and inmates are the central figures around which the jail's rigid, daily routine revolves, they are not always alone inside the fortress-like structure, more than 1,400 jail incident reports reviewed by The Lebanon Democrat show.
The reports also demonstrate that the tightly guarded world of the Wilson County Jail sometimes spills beyond its heavily fortified walls with one guard considered a target of investigators demonstrating something of a penchant for off-duty altercations.
Some reports also contain allegations lodged by female prisoners of sexual misconduct by corrections officers, other inmates and even a judicial commissioner.
In short, the voluminous stack of incident reports show many of the same needs, desires and conditions found throughout society primarily illness, addiction and sex create just as many problems behind bars as they do in the community as a whole.
And at the same time perhaps not surprisingly considering the nature of the long-running federal investigation some reports also show that not all bad behavior behind bars can be attributed to prisoners.
"They don't take care of themselves "
Like the inmate garden where some prisoners assigned to workhouse detail grow some food consumed in the jail, minor medical care in the facility is largely a self-contained affair. The jail has its own nurse, its own X-ray machine and most frequently mentioned in incident reports its own cart for dispensing medication to prisoners.
Complaints about medications "meds" in the jargon of jailers and prisoners crop up time and time again in the incident reports, though only rarely do the altercations go beyond verbal warnings from guards. Dispensing medication, however, appears to be a major cause of inmate-on-inmate skirmishes, according to the reports. The reports show that most clashes are often accompanied by accusations of medications being hoarded and passed among prisoners.
Though the reports show no apparent link between the jail's minor medical care and the guard-inflicted violence that has brought the facility under the scrutiny of federal investigators, Sheriff Terry Ashe said it is still one of the most difficult duties facing corrections officers, its complexity compounded by the frequently poor overall health of those who find themselves in jail.
"Probably 90 percent of the people in here are on some type of medication," Ashe said. "When they want their prescriptions refilled and they don't get it as soon as they want it, then they get irate And sometimes they're in the worst physical condition They don't take care of themselves, a great, great many of them are addicted It's a constant, tremendous problem for us."
Suspected medical problems or potential injuries have also caused inmates to be turned away from the jail even though they've been placed under arrest and brought to the facility by an arresting officer, reports show.
At least three times during the past four years prisoners were freed as soon as they were brought to jail due to disputes over which agency the jail or the arresting department should be responsible for seeing the detainee receives medical treatment, reports show.
One incident report says a detainee "left the jail along with the officer" who arrested him when that officer refused to first take the prisoner to a hospital for treatment of suspected injuries.
"Capt. Hemontoler (former jail director) advised to turn the prisoner loose if the officer was not going to take him to the emergency room," one report stated.
One incident report notes that a judicial commissioner "tore up an arrest warrant" for one prisoner who was freed immediately after arrest when the officer that brought him in refused to take him to an emergency room for X-rays.
If medical problems and injuries cause a steady stream of problems for the jail's staff, it is at least equaled by the time guards spend dealing with one of the most traditional problems found in most corrections facilities contraband.
Over the four-year period covered in the incident reports reviewed, searches of inmates as well as the facility itself for possible contraband were conducted dozens of times with tobacco far and away the leading culprit.
The reports stretching from 1999-2003 reflect attempts to smuggle tobacco into the jail in ways both mundane stuffed into a body cavity and uncovered during a strip search and downright creative, with an inmate's girlfriend found to be leaving loose cigarettes taped beneath a hallway water fountain for him to collect following his court appearances.
Drugs are uncovered in the jail only infrequently, the reports show, with marijuana, cocaine and a variety of other drugs found on prisoners during searches only a few times over the past four years. However, the reports also reflect almost constant complaints from inmates who claim drugs are used by inmates inside the various "pods," which are designed to hold 16 prisoners each, though the reports do not reflect which if any of the complaints were eventually substantiated.
Equally unclear from the reports is how often allegations of sexual misconduct are substantiated.
One incident report contained a graphically worded complaint that female inmates were openly engaging in sexual activity in one of the pods. In the document a corrections officer noted the report was being taken for "further investigation" but no other reports could be found refering to the complaint.
The same was true of a complaint filed by a male inmate on behalf of his girlfriend, a former inmate, against a former guard who has already pleaded guilty to assault charges as a result of the federal investigation.
Former guard William Westmoreland, who like two other former jailers is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal charges, was accused of repeatedly showing up at the former female inmate's workplace by her boyfriend, who himself was behind bars when the complaint was lodged, one incident report reveals.
The report, filed by Sgt. Jason Gray, also noted that Westmoreland "had made comments" about the woman to other guards while she was incarcerated.
Gray's report quotes the woman's boyfriend as saying Westmoreland "had been going repeatedly" to a restaurant where she was working, "offering rides and generally being around her." After noting the woman as a "former inmate" the report states "Westmoreland, according to other CO's (correctional officers) has made comments about" the woman "and told supervisors he went to pick up on-duty meals" at the restaurant where she was working.
The report ends by stating that the document "was given to Lt. (Eddie) Fitzpatrick for further investigation."
Though the reports are not designed to reflect whether any disciplinary action was taken against Westmoreland, the complaint was filed in May 2002 and the former guard remained on the job until shortly before pleading guilty to federal assault charges in November 2003.
One sexual misconduct allegation that was thoroughly investigated again with unclear results centered around an emotionally troubled female inmate's complaints against a judicial commissioner, the reports show.
The inmate, who reports show threatened suicide inside the facility on at least one occasion, claimed to have a sexual relationship with a judicial commissioner as well as a third-shift guard, though she said their encounters occurred outside the jail.
Incident reports show that an investigation into the allegation by Capt. Lance Howell, who headed the jail for a brief period before stepping down, substantiated at least part of the woman's claim that the judicial commissioner placed money on her commissary account after she was arrested, essentially giving her money to spend while behind bars.
In his report, Howell said he had Capt. Cheryl Henry sit in on his interview with the female inmate, which was conducted in November 2003. He said the woman "began by telling about a judicial commissioner who she had been having sexual relations with prior to entering the jail."
Though both the woman and the judicial commissioner were named in the report, The Democrat chose not to reveal their identities after she was jailed again earlier this week, shortly after a reporter started making inquiries about her complaint.
The woman went on to say the judicial commissioner agreed to place money on her commissary account after warning him "she would tell if he didn't," the report said.
Howell's report said "it was confirmed" that the judicial commissioner had placed $30 on the account after asking guards on duty how to conduct the transaction.
The female prisoner then claimed she was asked to expose herself by a jail guard with whom she was also sexually involved "prior to her being incarcerated," the report said.
The woman "stated that a few weeks ago, prior to being moved to the back, that a third-shift correctional officer had asked her to expose herself to him. She further stated that she had also had sexual relations with this correctional officer outside the jail prior to being incarcerated."
As a result an internal affairs investigation was conducted and the results turned over to chief judicial commissioner Randy Hankins, who said he forward the information to the District Attorney's office.
Hankins said the judicial commissioner denied the relationship, but admitted putting the money on the woman's account.
Hankins said it was "not unusual" for that particular commissioner to loan money to inmates, though he said the woman's complaint has put an end to that practice.
"He used bad judgment," Hankins said of his fellow judicial commissioner. "The DA's office declined to prosecute and that was pretty much the end of it."
If nothing else, the incident shows that judicial commissioners have perhaps the most unfettered access to the normally high security jail something which has not escaped the notice of federal investigators.
Hankins revealed that federal agents recently questioned judicial commissioners "about what we've seen" inside the jail, and also obtained copies of their time sheets.
Hankins said to his knowledge, no judicial commissioners have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury empaneled as part of the probe.
But the female inmate's complaint doesn't mark the only time a judicial commissioner was mentioned in a jail incident report.
The reports show that when Walter S. Kuntz, 43, fell into a fatal coma in January 2003 launching the federal investigation he was initially examined in his cell by judicial commissioner David Hale, a former Wilson Emergency Management Agency director. Ironically, Hale's son suspended jail guard Gary Hale has been identified by his attorney as a target of investigators probing Kuntz's death, which was attributed to injuries inflicted in an intentional beating and ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner.
Of the entire 1,400 page stack of incident reports, one of the most unusual detailed a late-night gathering in Don Fox Community Park of four jail guards all of them since implicated in connection with the long-running investigation.
The report was filed by Sgt. Patrick Marlowe, widely considered a central target of the probe, and begins by saying the four himself, Cpl. Gary Hale, Officer Shane Conatser and Westmoreland were in the park shortly after midnight on Feb. 1, 2002, "to run," even though the park closes to the public at 10 p.m. nightly.
In his report Marlowe says that while driving to the park he encountered two men in a car who "started yelling towards my car" as he was attempting to pass them.
Marlowe said he stopped his own car at an auto dealership near the park when the other vehicle "pulled in behind me," sparking a confrontation.
Marlowe said he "identified myself" to the other driver "and told the driver to return to his car and leave."
"The driver came toward me," the report continues. "I, Sgt. Marlowe, again told him to stop where he was and return to his car. An argument between myself and the driver continued. The driver then came towards me again. I, Sgt. Marlowe, then presented my ASP tactical baton (similar to night stick carried by police officers), advised the driver to return his car one more time and if he didn't that I would use force to place him in his car The driver then returned to his car and left."
Lebanon police were contacted about the incident the first of two times in a three-month period that Marlowe contacted police about a road altercation with another driver, records show.
Just two months later in April 2002, Marlowe initiated the drunken driving arrest of a man identified as Paul Armes. Armes was later brutally beaten while in custody, leading to charges of falsifying jail incident reports against Bradley, who according to FBI statements then implicated Marlowe and Conatser in the assault. Marlowe was off duty at the time, the FBI statement noted.
Though Lebanon police later located the men allegedly involved in the park altercation, they were questioned and released after officers determined they committed no crime, records show.
Sometimes an officer's off-duty behavior should serve as a "bit of a red flag" to his superiors, according to one corrections expert, particularly if it involves non-work related altercations or repeated trips into the jail while not on duty.
"That would strike me as unusual. That might be a bit of a red flag," said Dr. Richard Rogers of Middle Tennessee State University, who holds a doctorate in criminal justice and has worked in state and federal prison systems.
He said jail supervisors and administrators should take note of any guard who repeatedly shows up at the facility during his off-hours.
"That perhaps should cause a supervisor to look into that particular employee, because your typical 'hack' (a slang term for jail guards) feels like when he puts his eight hours in that's plenty," Rogers said. "If you have somebody who keeps coming to the facility in his off time, or if he keeps having run-ins with people when he's off duty, you might have a potential problem there."
And, he said, excessive force by on-duty jailers should be even easier to track.
"The number and frequency of incidents, if the same officer is involved on numerous occasions, should be your first tip off," Rogers said. "If you see a pattern of who is involved, ideally you would go over his regular training with him, basically just go over the rules. Then if it appears he uses excessive force again, you would consider a transfer."
He said no jail "should see a large number of injuries to inmates like broken ribs or broken jaws."
"You shouldn't be going at it mano a mano in there," Rogers said. "When you have to go into a prisoner's cell you should go in with such numbers, with such overwhelming force, that it's all over in a matter of seconds You have a guard take each of the prisoner's limbs and another guard apply handcuffs or restraints That way you don't have these long, drawn out battles that are dangerous to both of you."