An internal probe triggered by a former inmate's anonymous online tip about corrections officers' sexual misconduct with women jailed in Russell County prompted Sheriff Heath Taylor to fire one worker and arrest two others, the sheriff said today.
Taylor said the tip he got Monday through the sheriff's office website led to the arrests Wednesday of Jacob Brent Phelps and James Blain, who were charged with felony sexual misconduct with an inmate, which upon conviction carries a penalty of one to 10 years in prison, Taylor said. The sheriff said he fired another corrections officer, Charles Tarver, for "inappropriate conversations" involving sexual innuendo with female inmates.
Taylor would not disclose details of the sexual misconduct that he said involved physical contact between the two corrections officers and women inmates. He said the allegations did not involve sexual intercourse.
All three admitted to the conduct alleged, and a review of security camera recordings provided some evidence against them, the sheriff said: "There are things on camera." Such recordings are not regularly reviewed, but inspected when authorities have reason to suspect issues within the jail. Because the officers arrested could not safely be held in the county jail with inmates they once guarded, they immediately were released on $10,000 bond each right after their arrests, Taylor said. The investigation indicates their misbehavior started about two months ago, he said, though he was unsure how long Tarver had been making sexual comments to female inmates. Tarver had worked there about 10 years, he said.
Phelps and Bain violated established jail procedures which aside from emergencies do not allow male officers to have sole custody over female inmates, the sheriff said. Jail policy says female corrections officers are to search and supervise female inmates during day-to-day operations.
Because the jail already has procedures intended to prevent sexual misconduct, no modifications are needed, Taylor said.
The Russell County jail typically houses 350 to 400 inmates on an average day, he said. Usually only 50 to 55 of those are women, he said. The jail has around a dozen corrections officers working each of its 12-hour shifts, he said.
The person sending the anonymous tip said she was a former inmate with personal knowledge of the misconduct, Taylor said. The tip came straight to him, so he launched an investigation that involved interviewing inmates and officers, and such interviews are continuing he said.
He said inmates told him "95 percent" of the officers behave in a professional manner.