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DA: Inmates abused at jail
Apr 30, 2004 12:00 am
District Attorney Tommy Thompson made his strongest public statements to date about an ongoing federal investigation into the Wilson County Jail, saying he believed inmates were abused in the jail.
"Inmates have a right not to be abused and I think some of that's been going on there," Thompson told the Lebanon Noon Rotary Club on Tuesday.
The now 14-month long investigation into civil rights abuses at the jail has already seen guilty pleas from three former jailers. The probe began after the death of an inmate last year that state medical examiners ruled a homicide.
Thompson said the U.S. Department of Justice was brought in to investigate the alleged abuse, saying there are more ramifications when public officials are dealing with the federal government.
"In the beginning, we made the decision it was best to have the federal government investigating because (a suspect) can lie to me or to the sheriff or to the chief of police, but if they lie to a federal agent, that is a felony," Thompson explained.
Thompson also accepted some of the blame for the actions in the jail, saying Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe may also bear some responsibility.
"The media has been fair in reporting this," Thompson said. "Maybe there is enough blame to go around. Maybe I should have known something like this was going on, because I am the attorney general for this district. Maybe Sheriff Ashe should have known that something was going on, too."
Thompson said the federal investigation would probably be limited to jailers on the second shift, noting that the least experienced were the ones who have been investigated to date.
Thompson said the young jailers may have been afraid to properly report what they saw during questionable situations within the jail, filing false reports instead of telling the proper authorities about suspected incidents of abuse.
"You've got to look out for everybody in the jail," Thompson said. "You (have) the youngest and least trained people and they are taking care of the hardcore inmates as well as the people who maybe got drunk and just found themselves in jail."
Thompson also addressed some of the issues that concern him regarding the operations of his office, including staffing and funding.
He asked for support for legislation currently being considered in the Tennessee General Assembly which would add staff to state prosecutors' offices, as well as designate more funding so that Thompson can pay his people salaries in line with surrounding states.
"The state funds six assistant district attorneys," Thompson explained, adding that two investigators are on his staff, partially funded by a federal grant and partially from money confiscated in a Lebanon drug bust. "For those eight people just getting all those cases tried is remarkable. You are dependent on the district attorney's office to prosecute crimes, and you deserve the best representation."
Thompson also discussed the caseload of each of his assitants, estimating that each is responsible for about 1,000 cases each year.
"I know, David Durham, Bobby Hibbett and Judge John Wootten could have doubled, tripled or quadrupled their salaries if they had gone into the private sector," Thompson said.
Thompson urged citizens to support House Bill 3429 and Senate Bill 2976, which he said would add about one-third to the recommended staffing levels, established in the 1998 "Judicial Caseload Study." That study indicated that 142 additional prosecutors were needed in the State of Tennessee in 1998.
An entry-level prosecutor may earn up to $31,044 in the first year, Thompson said. A comparable entry-level position in the private sector starts at $46,572.