ST. GEORGE — Charges have been filed against five former Daggett County Jail employees including former Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen in the wake of an investigation that closed the county jail.
“The alleged actions of at least one defendant constitute unbelievably inhumane conduct and a reprehensible miscarriage of justice,” Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement released by his office Friday, “and the actions of all the defendants are inexcusable.”
The charges stem from a Utah Department of Corrections’ investigation into misconduct and criminal allegations including assaults on state inmates by illegally using Tasers on them. In one case an uncertified police K-9 was let loose on the inmates. There were other unsafe correctional practices as well, according to charging documents and statements released.
Rollin Cook, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Corrections, issued a statement Friday in response to the charges filed in the 8th District Court by the state attorney’s office.
“As the numerous felony and misdemeanor charges against the Daggett County employees show, the investigation into the jail operations uncovered allegations of abuse of inmates at the hands of the jail’s employees and mismanagement by its leadership,” he said.
Cook also said that many more problems were revealed through the investigation than the charges filed reflect, adding the previous jail management “was not safe for the inmates or the public.”
Jorgensen, 64, who resigned April 23, is charged with failure of a sheriff to keep inmates safe and obstruction of justice, both class A misdemeanors, and official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor.
Former jail commander Benjamin Lail, 31 of Manila, also resigned in April and is charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
Joshua Cox, 27 of Manila, is charged with seven counts of aggravated assault and two counts of transporting a dangerous weapon into a secure area of the jail, which are all third-degree felonies. Cox has also been charged with one count of theft and one count of reckless endangerment, both class A misdemeanors.
Logan Walker, 27, and Rodrigo Toledo, 42, are both charged with official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor.
Cox’s aggravated assault charges stem from using his Taser on inmates. According to the Taser discharge records, the device was used five times on Aug. 27.
The theft charge stems from authorities retrieving a Taser that Cox took with him when he resigned from the Smithfield Police Department back in January 2016. Court documents reveal that the Smithfield Police paid over $800 for the equipment and investigators found no evidence that the defendant intended to return it or “that the misappropriation was in any manner temporary.”
Lail’s charges stem from an April 14 incident where the commander threatened a female inmate by “sparking the Taser at her feet,” according to court records.
That same inmate then sent an email to Jorgensen describing the incident but he denied any knowledge of the email or any knowledge of Tasers being used within the facility or of any Taser training occurring, “despite training logs indicating the opposite,” court records state.
Toledo and Walker were both charged with being present when Cox, a training officer, was Tasing one of the inmates but they did not intervene or try to stop him, nor did they report the incident.
The investigation led the Department of Corrections to withdraw 80 state inmates from the jail in February and the jail remains empty.
The Daggett County Sheriff’s Office is “trying to rebuild the department right now, and are in the process of hiring a new sheriff, a task that falls on the Republican Party and they are reviewing applications,” Susie Potter, public information officer for the Daggett County Sheriff’s Office, said.
Under state law, finding an interim sheriff to finish the remaining two years of Jorgensen’s term falls to the county’s Republican Party. “Presently that role is being managed by our county commissioners,” Potter said, “until an interim is named and approved.”
Potter also said that since February crews have been working inside the jail completing repairs, painting and making improvements to prepare for the facility to reopen.
“We have no timeline on that, and are now in a holding pattern but wanted to get the work done so that the facility is ready,” Potter said.
Though the last few months have been stressful for the employees still working at the Sheriff’s office, Potter said they are focusing on making the necessary changes and looking to the future.
Utah Department of Corrections contracts with 20 jails to house about 1,500 state inmates. The Inmate Placement Program was created in 1987 to address overcrowding at the state’s correctional facilities. Counties are paid per inmate at a rate of $52 per day.
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