Friday, April 18, 2003

Sodomy case raises questions

Teen files lawsuit against Grant County jailer

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILLIAMSTOWN - When a Northern Kentucky teenager saw the blinking lights of Trooper David Jones' cruiser in his rear-view mirror, he was going 90 mph - 35 mph over the limit - on narrow, two-lane U.S. 27.

And so began a night of terror: For a $100 traffic ticket, the 125-pound, 18-year-old was placed in a jail cell, where he says he was sexually assaulted by a group of felons.

Five inmates of the Grant County jail have been charged with assault and sodomy. A grand jury has declined to indict any members of the jail staff, though the teen's civil suit against the county claims they were negligent in not protecting him.

In a moment of teenage indiscretion that February night, the young man just three months past his 18th birthday had decided to see if he could outrun the trooper and beat a speeding ticket. He whipped his 1992 green Chrysler LeBaron off U.S. 27 and onto Light Foot Fork in Falmouth. It didn't work.

The teen, whom the Enquirer is not naming, was caught three miles down the road and locked up at the Grant County jail about 30 miles south of Cincinnati

The trooper called the young man's father to tell him he was lodging him in the jail. The father begged him not to take the young man to jail, said Donald Nageleisen, the Covington attorney for the family.

The trooper refused, saying the young man "needed to be taught a lesson," the father told the attorney.

What happened next, in Cell 101, has raised tough questions about the operations of the jail.

Investigation records include interviews that claim the young man was roughed up by a gang of men and sexually assaulted after a guard told inmates to "take care of my boy."

The guard winked after telling prisoners they were getting "fresh meat" that night, an inmate not implicated in the attack told investigators. At least one other inmate, whose account is contained in the 75-page investigation record, described a similar exchange between a guard and inmates in the cell.

Kentucky State Police Post 6 in Dry Ridge uncovered those allegations in its investigation.

Grant County Jailer Steve Kellam, a former state trooper himself, refused to answer any questions about the alleged assault.

His attorney, Tom Nienaber, said he instructed his client not to speak because the teen has filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court against the jailer.

All Nienaber would say was "there are no lives in danger at that jail."

Law enforcement officials in Northern Kentucky universally call Kellam, with 18 years of law enforcement experience, a well-respected jailer.

While declining to indict jail staff, the grand jury did indict five prisoners - Victor Ray Zipp, Alexander Brandon Castillo, Robert J. Tester, Edward Allen Pelfrey and Christopher W. Harris - on sodomy and assault charges.

Grant County Commonwealth's Attorney James Crawford said he will not pursue charges against the jail staff unless new evidence is uncovered.

'A right not to be attacked'

Hearing details of the alleged attack, Eastern Kentucky University Professor Preston Elrod said this kind of incident should have never happened.

"A person placed in jail has a right not to be attacked by prisoners or by staff," said Elrod, who teaches juvenile justice and crime theory in the school's nationally renowned Department of Correctional and Juvenile Justice Studies.

"Anytime you have things like that going in the jail, you have a real problem going on with management. There is clearly not the kind of management going on there that ought to be happening."

Elrod said the problems jails face lie in the incredible diversity of populations needing jail space - young and old, men and women, violent people and first-time offenders.

"What you typically have is a population of people you want to segregate because of different needs, but not a facility to do that in," said Elrod, who has studied the effects of locking up juveniles.

"You don't want to have a young person, sometimes who has never been arrested before, and place them in a situation where they are at risk of victimization."

Prisoners had long histories

None of the five prisoners indicted in the attack have prior convictions for sex crimes. Most were considerably older, with prior criminal histories.

Twenty-nine-year-old Tester, for example, has a criminal history stretched across both sides of the Ohio River. He has been convicted in Butler County of attempted tampering with physical evidence and three counts of attempted receiving stolen property in a motor vehicle. In Grant County, Tester and Pelfrey, 36, were convicted of unlawful possession of a methamphetamine precursor after both were arrested in the same sting.

Others, like Harris, were sent to Grant County to serve their state prison terms after conviction in counties as far as 100 miles from Williamstown.

Harris, 20, was found guilty in Louisville of third-degree complicity to burglary, possession of a handgun by a convicted felon and unlawful transaction with a minor.

State prison officials have been sending inmates to county jails for years to help relieve overcrowding in state prisons. Three of those charged in the attack are overflow state prisoners.

And counties with new jails and open beds traditionally have been eager to accept state inmates.

The jail is paid $27.51 per day to house state prisoners, an extra source of revenue to help often cash-strapped counties to pay for new jails.

State oversight

Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb says county jails are not required to report assaults to corrections officials in Frankfort.

The state does require jails to have policies on certain issues - such as visitation or weapons - but state regulations don't say what those policies must be.

As long as the jail has a policy addressing an issue, they are in compliance with the state even if the policy might be deemed flawed by jail experts.

Since 2000, the jail has not been in major violation of any state inspection regulations, Lamb said.

The state does have regulations requiring that county jails segregate inmates by juvenile/adult, male/female and keep inmates who are mentally ill and chemically dependent out of the general population.

Another regulation states that the jail must segregate prisoners likely to be harmed and prisoners likely to harm others.

"The booking officer has a responsibility to see the persons are booked in and safely taken care of. It is the jail's responsibility to keep its population safe.

"There can be problems if the jail isn't staffed or if its staff is ill-trained," said Ken Kerle, a national expert on county jails.

Kerle is the managing editor of American Jails trade journal. He's visited 700 jails in 49 states since 1978 and published a book American Jails: Looking to the Future in 1998.

Kerle said a jail should keep inmates who have been sentenced separated from people who haven't appeared before a judge. Those people are still assumed to be innocent.

He also said it sounds as if the jail didn't properly identify inmates who could become violent.

"The incident you describe is the classic example of what happens when you don't properly classify prisoners and segregate them appropriately," he said.

Often, such incidents take place in older jail facilities, Kerle said, where closed construction styles limit jailers' ability to monitor inmates. But the $7.5 million 300-bed Grant County jail opened in May 2000.

Kerle said that in any jail, the first 24 hours of incarceration are the most dangerous - most suicides, assaults and rapes take place within this time frame. The Falmouth teen was attacked within minutes of being placed in Cell 101 of the "direct supervision" unit of the Grant County jail.

Harassment at school

The teen's attorney, Nageleisen, said his client's traffic violations were resolved in District Court with the payment of a $100 fine. But the aftermath of what happened in jail has proven much harder for the teen.

Nageleisen said many residents in his rural community already know what happened to him. He has experienced harassment at school, fulfilling one threat of his attackers.

Inmate William May told investigators "all the guys involved in the attack started telling him not to say anything. If he did, people would make fun of him."


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