LANCASTER – What was once a closed case for Fairfield County officials is now the subject of an FBI inquiry.
And officials have confirmed to the Eagle-Gazette that they have received multiple complaints of sexual assault from female inmates who were held at the Fairfield County Minimum Security Jail.
The first complaint came from a female inmate who claimed she was raped by a deputy in the change-out/shower area on Nov. 27, 2015. Security footage shows a deputy and a female inmate walking into a room out of the view of surveillance cameras for four minutes and five seconds. What happened in that room — and to other women who have now come forward with accusations — is now under review by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
But the matter has already been reviewed locally. After what Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen described as a lengthy internal investigation, the claim was “unfounded, ” and the case was closed. That was until an outside investigator at the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office reopened it last spring.
A couple of months into the investigation, the prosecutor’s office turned over the investigation to the FBI, Phalen confirmed Monday. Phalen called federal investigators weeks ago but said they wouldn’t reveal where the case stands. Meanwhile, the accused deputy is still employed and working.
“My guess is (the FBI) will come to the same conclusion,” Phalen said. “… It’s kind of a he said; she said situation — unless they know something I don’t know.”
But one thing Phalen didn’t know is that more than one woman is now alleging she was sexually assaulted.
Angel Sanderson of Fairfield County Adult Probation, a mandated reporter who is cooperating with the investigation, said she is aware of three female probationers claiming they were sexually assaulted while incarcerated at the county’s minimum security jail. She said there are likely others, but she only had direct knowledge of three women.
It’s unclear when the alleged assaults occurred, but Sanderson stated they were first reported to her in summer of 2016 and that the women had all been incarcerated “around the same time.”
Female probationers identified two deputies, but Sanderson said there was one deputy primarily involved. Sanderson would not confirm the deputies’ identities with the Eagle-Gazette.
The Eagle-Gazette previously requested personnel files, a video and other records about two deputies who were allegedly involved in misconduct with female inmates, including the deputy accused of rape. The findings in these documents were published in May.
The records request revealed the sheriff’s office did not contact an outside agency or even investigators who specialize in sexual assault to lead the investigation. It was handled internally by jail officials, with some help from Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office Detectives Kelli Stats and Jason Meadows. The detectives were called in to assist in questioning the primary witnesses: the inmate and the deputy.
Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jerome Feyko led the investigation. However, he is a patrol and jail supervisor and has no experience investigating a sexual assault from start to finish. Phalen said that’s why Stats was brought in to assist. At the end of the investigation, Phalen said a prosecutor did not review the findings.
“I don’t think we had enough (evidence) to take it to the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
The deputy will not be identified in this article because he has not been charged with a crime.
Feyko determined the rape claim was unfounded, but the deputy did receive two written reprimands for violating jail procedures. The violations uncovered during the investigation were:
- The deputy gestured with two hands for the inmate to flash him through a glass partition, which she did.
Investigators showed the deputy surveillance video of this encounter five times, but he still denied gesturing for the inmate to expose herself.
“Detective Stats talked to the prosecutor, and they felt since they weren’t in the same room when he allegedly asked her to show him her (breasts), this probably isn’t a criminal charge, since she wasn’t under his direct custody or control (separated by walls, doors, glass, etc.),” Feyko said.
- Later that night, the deputy took the same inmate from an isolation cell into the change-out/shower room, which is out of view of cameras, for about four minutes.
Male deputies are not allowed to be alone with female inmates in rooms without video surveillance. Jail officials learned the deputy was told to take the female inmates to shower by a supervisor due to a small staff working that night. That supervisor was also reprimanded for violating the rule. There is an intercom in the room, but another deputy on duty told investigators that he was new and didn’t realize he needed to turn it on.
Phalen and jail officials considered the case closed in January 2016, but the Fairfield County Prosecutor’s Office reopened the case when a citizen reported a complaint directly to the prosecutor’s office in spring of 2016. After a few months, the prosecutor’s office turned the case over to the FBI.
Jail Commander Lt. Marc Churchill said the deputy had not received any further disciplinary actions since the rape allegation. He was temporarily removed from working shifts at the minimum security jail, where female inmates are held, during the internal investigation. However, the deputy returned to his post, working wherever he is needed, including the minimum security jail.
In Sanderson’s 20 years with the probation department, she said she has never had a probationer report a sexual claim against a deputy.
When asked if she thought the deputy’s punishment was appropriate, Sanderson declined to comment.
The deputy denied he had any sexual contact with the inmate. He said he was ordered to take two inmates from isolation cells to the shower room on Nov. 27, 2015. Neither inmate showered that night.
The first inmate can be seen walking into the room alone and coming out minutes later. She said she was using the restroom, not taking a shower. The second inmate, who later alleged she was raped, goes in the room to change her “blues” because there was blood on her pants from a fight earlier that day. She doesn’t say she went there to take a shower.
Surveillance footage shows the deputy following her in and shutting the door. The inmate told investigators that the deputy blocked the doorway between the uniforms and the bathroom.
“… he made the comment that she would not do it because she was too scared and attempted to kiss her,” according to the inmate’s interview with jail investigators. “She stated that she turned her cheek and stated that he made the comment ‘Are you going to tell?’ and she replied by telling him ‘no,’ but that she did not want to sleep with him because he was a cop. She stated that she felt pressured, so she submitted into having sex with him.”
The deputy said he was in the room with the inmate trying to unlock the shower, but he had trouble with the key. (Other jail deputies also reported having trouble with the shower key.) However, the jail’s investigation notes never address the discrepancy about the shower and whether that’s what the inmates were there to do.
“Then he put us back in the hole (isolation cell) and asked ‘did you have a good night?’ and I said ‘sure,'” the inmate said in her interview.
The inmate said the encounter did not last long. In a second interview with investigators, she said it could have lasted a minimum of 13 minutes and a maximum of 18 minutes.
They were only in the room for about four minutes.
Phalen said the timing issue was a red flag in the inmate’s statements.
Lisa DeGeeter, executive director of Harcum House, said generally, it’s difficult for a sexual assault victim to have a sense of time unless there is an obvious way, like a TV show playing in the background, for someone to recall how long an assault lasts. Harcum House is the home of the Child Advocacy Center of Fairfield County, which is meant to reduce trauma to child victims. On Tuesday, DeGeeter spoke about sexual assault victims’ experience, although she has no knowledge of the alleged jail rape.
Phalen said he understands that victims could believe an assault lasted longer than it did, but he still doesn’t believe the inmate could be trusted over the deputy. Phalen said the woman made a similar allegation in the past against a civilian, which made her new accusations less credible.
There was also a lack of physical evidence, Phalen said, because the alleged rape was reported several days later. DeGeeter said the presence of physical evidence could also be a challenge in sexual assault cases because adult victimization must be reported within 96 hours to complete a rape kit. Reporting an assault days, weeks, months and sometimes years later, is common, she said.
After reporting the alleged rape, the inmate was told criminal charges could be pressed on either the deputy if the claim was substantiated or her if she made a false complaint.
More than a year has passed since the complaint, and neither the deputy nor the inmate was charged.
Included in the internal investigation were two handwritten grievances from fellow inmates, claiming they had heard of the alleged assault and that the inmate was lying.
The jail investigator’s notes indicate the inmate told her mother what happened about two days later. She told her mother “that it was sad that she is in jail and feels unsafe … She stated that some Deputies treat what they consider snitches different than the rest of the population and she did not want that to happen,” according to the inmate’s interview with investigators.
The inmate’s mother urged her to tell someone anyway. Several days later jail investigator notes show the inmate reported it to a Recovery Center counselor and Reentry Program employee. She told the counselor that the deputy was also “having sex with the trustees,” according to an interview summary.
The inmate said the deputy had made inappropriate comments to her for four months before the alleged rape, but she didn’t tell anyone.
The Reentry Program employee reportedly told jail officials that she believed the inmate and “didn’t want this complaint to fall on deaf ears,” according to jail investigator notes.
When asked for the comment, an FBI spokesperson said the bureau could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
Phalen said he would like to have a conclusion to the case, but stands by the result of the internal investigation. Phalen said the sustained allegations did not rise to the level of termination and that the deputy was reprimanded appropriately.
“We did a thorough investigation, and we certainly didn’t disregard what (the inmate) said,” Phalen said. “But at the end of the day when you have conflicting stories between the deputy and the complainant, you have an investigation that you can’t sustain one way or the other and that was the end result.”