I-Team investigates inappropriate relationships at correctional institution

Prison logs more sex cases

Guards fired for relationships with women inmates at DCI.

Allegations of sex, romance and other inappropriate relationships between inmates and staff at the Dayton Correctional Institution increased after it switched to an all-female prison, costing four employees their jobs and spurring more than a dozen internal investigations, the Dayton Daily News has found.

Inappropriate relationships — as reported by staff and inmates to prison officials — soared from three in the three years before 2011, when the institution began housing only women, to 19 in 2012 and 2013.

Prison investigators say they have evidence to confirm four of these cases. This included love letters, DNA evidence of sex and secretly recorded conversations that led to employees being fired, allowed to resign or transferred to another facility after spending months on paid leave.

“Staff are there, paid, to provide for the security of the inmates, certainly not to be involved with the relationship of an inmate which, is in itself, a criminal offense,” said Joanna Saul, executive director of the state’s non-partisan prison watchdog group called the Correctional Institution Inspection Committee. “These women come into this system from a background of abuse and trauma and now we’re placing them in another situation of people taking advantage of them.”

The union that represents corrections officers contends the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections fell short in preparing the staff at DCI for the switch from guarding men to women, according to its spokeswoman.

But state prison officials say they expected a jump in inappropriate relationships and sexual assaults when the facility transitioned to an all-female, high-security prison in October 2011. They note the population nearly doubled to 980 inmates.

Women inmates are also more likely to report violations, according to Ed Voorhies, managing director of operations for the prison system.

“There is a difference in male offenders and female offenders and their reluctance to tell,” Voorhies said. “Women offenders will tell.”

A blue washcloth

Inmate Kelley Malicoat showed prison and criminal investigators a semen-stained rag in April 2012 and said Corrections Officer Jason Morris traded sex with her for tobacco and pills. She later recanted her story, telling the court in a handwritten letter, “I can’t allow an innocent man go to jail for a crime he did not commit.”

Morris, who had worked at the prison since July 2009, was fired in July 2012 after first being placed on paid leave. He was charged in August 2012 with gross sexual imposition and sexual battery in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court, but those charges were dropped two weeks after Malicoat recanted her story.

The investigation began when prison officials received a tip that Malicoat and Morris had sex in April 2012. Malicoat told investigators Morris had pursued her for months and suggested she buy her tobacco and pills from him in exchange for sex.

After having sex, she told investigators, she kept a blue washcloth she used to clean herself in case Morris didn’t come forward with the tobacco and pills.

“An inmate does not have the ability to consent to be in a sexual relationship,” said Voorhies in explaining why charges were pursued.

Morris was indicted after an analysis by the Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory found sperm on the rag that matched Morris’ DNA and other fluids that matched Malicoat.

The case fell apart, however. First, one of the inmate witnesses recanted her claims that Morris and Malicoat had sex, saying she felt pressured by prison investigators into testifying. She also said Malicoat had promised to give her money from a lawsuit she planned to bring against the state.

Malicoat recanted as well a week after she left prison. In a statement to the court, Malicoat said she watched as Morris wiped his forehead with the blue washcloth and threw it in the trash. She said she picked up the cloth to blackmail him into bringing her cigarettes. Like the witness, Malicoat said she felt pressured by investigators, which was the reason she gave for saying she had sex with the prison guard.

“I am asking that all charges be dismissed against Jason Morris,” Malicoat said in her May 9, 2013, letter to the court.

Morris initially pleaded guilty to charges of gross sexual imposition, but changed his plea. The prosecutor dropped the charges against him on May 24, 2013.

Morris declined to comment for this story.

Malicoat was serving a two-year prison sentence for several counts of theft from an elderly or disabled adult in Hamilton County. Four months after her May 2013 release, she was back behind bars at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for a parole violation and non-payment of support to a dependent. She is scheduled for release in 2015.

‘What grownups do’

Prison rules prohibit relationships with inmates for six months after their release.

That apparently didn’t stop Cedric Carter, who had a 25-year career as a corrections officer, from contacting a former Dayton Correctional Institution prisoner. Records show Carter first sent her an email one day after her release.

Carter was transferred from DCI to the Warren Correctional Institution and banned from working in a female prison again after investigators uncovered evidence that linked him to former DCI inmate, Shanika Washington. He has since been fired for violating a “last-chance” agreement at Warren.

Carter’s case shows how difficult pursuing disciplinary cases against corrections officers can be. According to his 700-plus-page personnel file, he had a history of trouble at work, including threats to hurt himself and his prison employers. He also was accused of making sexist statements about women on several occasions, according to the file.

Before Washington left prison, she said Carter slipped her his email address. He then began sending her suggestive emails, she said, including an August 2012 email that instructed her to buy a $74 round trip bus ticket to Cincinnati from a Cleveland suburb so they could share a weekend getaway together.

Washington, who served a 22-month term for felonious assault, told investigators she responded because she planned to use Carter for a free trip to Cincinnati. Carter, she said, “ain’t my first (corrections officer), truthfully.”

Washington said the pair never had sexual interactions during her time in prison. But, in one of the emails to him she wrote, “I can’t wait to see you and be all up under you so that we can do what grown-ups do.”

Phone subpoenas, obtained by prison officials, reveal the two exchanged at least 36 text messages and had a phone call lasting nearly an hour between July 1 and August 20, 2012.

Carter was placed on administrative leave in December 2012, and the union that represents corrections officers, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, agreed prison officials “had a strong case” to fire him.

But Carter’s wife, who initially reported the relationship to prison investigators, rescinded her allegations in an undated letter that was included in the personnel file reviewed by the newspaper. According to the letter, which is signed by Carter’s wife, it was she and not Carter who wrote the emails to Washington. At the time, she wrote, she and her husband were having “hardcore” disagreements in their marriage involving their children and living arrangements.

The union negotiated the last-chance agreement with prison officials in April 2013, allowing Carter to be transferred instead of being fired. The agreement required him to adhere strictly to all prison work policies. He lost his job at Warren when he violated the prison conduct policy. Security footage shows that Carter took the handcuffs off a maximum security, isolated inmate and left the inmate’s cell door open.

He couldn’t be reached for comment on this story.

Love letters

Union officials say the state didn’t do enough to quell romances from blossoming in prison cells between inmates and staff. OCSEA spokeswoman Sally Meckling questions if the prison workers represented by the union were adequately trained.

“Training is critical in any transition, but especially one as involved as moving from an all-male to an all-female prison,” she said. “Training should have been appropriate to such a large- scale change.”

This issue was raised when Corrections officer Victor Fletcher resigned in August 2013 after an internal investigation unearthed love letters and phone calls between him and DCI inmate Kofi Cooper in June and July. Cooper is currently serving a prison term for involuntary manslaughter and carrying a gun as a convicted felon.

Cooper contacted Fletcher through three-way phone calls placed by a friend and former inmate, according to investigative records.

“During the recorded 3-way calls, Victor Fletcher stated numerous times, ‘I love you and I miss you’ to inmate Cooper,” the records say.

Investigators began watching Cooper and Fletcher in November 2011, when Cooper was caught with contraband. According to an unverified tip, that contraband came from a staff member.

In March 2012, after Fletcher was seen taking long walks with Cooper, he was warned again about the relationship, records show.

A year later, on June 12, 2013, prison officials listened to a phone call from Cooper to an outside number. Cooper had called a former inmate, who then dialed a three-way call to Fletcher’s cellphone.

A male answered, according to a transcript of the conversation. “Hey, I love you,” Cooper began. “(I’m) Thinking about you, that’s it. Wanting you to know that.”

“I’ve been thinking about you too, baby,” the male voice responded.

They both ended the conversation with “I love you.”

Two weeks after the phone call, investigators played the recording to Fletcher. He admitted it was his phone number but denied it was his voice, according to prison records. He was placed on paid leave that day.

Over the following month, prison officials intercepted four letters from Cooper to her former inmate friend. Each contained an envelope with another letter addressed to Fletcher.

“I love you so much and I know that you feel the same way,” Cooper wrote in a July 10 letter, in which she says “I miss your kisses.”

In an Aug. 7 disciplinary hearing, Fletcher admitted he had inappropriate dialogue with Cooper, but he denied having any sexual relations or bringing any items to her.

He resigned Aug. 21, six days after he received a termination notice..

Reached by phone, Fletcher refused to comment on the newspaper’s investigation. He said he resigned “because I wanted to resign. It was none of your business.”

Cooper was transferred to the Ohio Reformatory for Women after the incident.

‘Where does it stop?’

Inappropriate relationships falling far short of sex — such as giving an inmate candy or even a Bible — are a gateway to inmates manipulating staff, according to state prison officials.

”She’ll carry it to the extreme,” Voorhies said of inmates who convince staffers to give them special treatment. “The female who gets him to bring the Big Mac, gets him to bring in tobacco. Where does it stop?”

Social Worker Shawn Johnson’s personnel file contained glowing reviews before he resigned on Feb. 27, 2012, after finding a camera hidden in a smoke detector in his office on Feb. 12.

A copy of the video from the camera, obtained by this newspaper, shows Johnson handing out candy and other unidentified items to inmates in his office. The inmates wandered freely around his office, crawling over his desk to grab things. At one point, he touched an inmate’s hand reassuringly.

“To me it was clear, by looking at that video, that the offenders had him so compromised that they felt comfortable getting out of their chair and accessing his refrigerator,” Voorhies said. “What I saw, clearly on the video, was inappropriate touching, him reaching across the desk and holding the offender’s hand.

Voorhies said the investigation turned up no evidence of a romantic or sexual relationship.

Johnson, whose resignation was coded “not for rehire” by prison officials, did not respond to emailed questions seeking comment.

Kristin Hall, deputy executive director of the human rights organization Just Detention International, said relationships between guards and inmates have widespread impact. The encounters can emotionally scar inmates — making rehabilitation more difficult — and cost staff their jobs after costly investigations.

“Certainly we don’t want to pay people to commit abuse,” she said. “Part of the penalty (for a crime) is not further abuse at the hands of the state.”

Roughly four percent of inmates will be sexually victimized during their stay in a federal or state prison across the country, according to reports in 2011 and 2012 to the federal Department of Justice.

Inmates at Ohio’s only other female prison, the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, consistently report the highest number of allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment from staff in the entire Ohio corrections system. In 2012 — the latest figures available — inmates made 11 allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment and six of those were substantiated by state officials.

Although DCI had 19 reports of inappropriate relationships in 2012 and 2013, just two met the state’s threshold for sexual misconduct.

Sexual misconduct cases aren’t confined to women’s prisons.

A Dayton Daily News investigation in August 2012 revealed that Lebanon Correctional Institution Warden Timothy Brunsman was demoted after a “wholly inadequate” response to sexual inappropriate conduct by a health care staffer. The incident followed a spate of sexual misconduct issues there.

Use of force down

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said she has heard concerns that inadequate funding for state prisons led to little training before the transition from male to female prisoners. But she said tours of DCI have left her impressed.

“I think they do the best they can with what the state gives them,” she said.

Employees at the Dayton prison received a full day of training in dealing with female prisoners, and male workers received an additional day, according to prison officials.

Voorhies called the transition to an all-women’s prison at DCI a success. That move greatly reduced the inmate population — and overcrowding — at Marysville, and dramatically reduced the number of “use of force incidents,” according to Voorhies.

Since the conversion, such incidents — how often staff have to physically restrain an inmate in response to a problem — are down by 150 at Marysville and up by only about 15 at DCI.

“That amounts to potentially millions of dollars in taxpayer savings for loss work time and potential injuries and the loss of medical care,” Voorhies said of the declining use of force numbers.

Oversight at the prison was called into question just last week when the Ohio Inspector General released a scathing report about the management of inmate entertainment programs.

The prison spent $77,000 over a 16-month period on inmate entertainment and art programs without documenting the expenses, the report found. The administrator who oversaw that program retired in October after being on paid leave for roughly eight months during the investigation.

DCI Warden Jeff Lisath was not made available to comment for this story.

David Singleton of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, a Cincinnati-based nonprofit, said Lisath has been responsive to concerns raised about inmate issues.

But he said prisons across the state would benefit from better employee screening and monitoring of employees.

“It is not just DCI,” he said. “This is an issue in facilities across the country.

“If you don’t draw a clear line, it’s going to get crossed and it’s going to get crossed at the expense of a prisoner that doesn’t have the same power to say ‘no’ that she would have if she were on the outside.”