SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s attorney general filed charges Friday against a former sheriff and four deputies in a rural county after prosecutors say inmates were stunned with a Taser in exchange for soda or as hazing when assigned to a work crew.
Former Daggett County Sheriff Jerry R. Jorgensen has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of misconduct, obstructing justice and failing to keep inmates safe. He resigned last month as state officials investigated allegations of inmate abuse.
According to the charges, former deputy Joshua J. Cox threatened inmates with his personal Taser in 2015 and 2016.
On one occasion in August 2016, Cox promised five inmates a case of soda if they could endure the stun gun for five minutes.
Two months later, Cox used the Taser as an “initiation” to an inmate work crew and required one inmate to withstand the Taser in exchange for keeping his work privileges, prosecutors said.
Court records allege that between December 2016 and February 2017, Cox brought uncertified police dogs into the jail and ordered two inmates to participate in training the dogs. Cox was not a certified K9 officer and both inmates were bitten by the unleashed animals, prosecutors said.
Cox faces 11 counts, including felony aggravated assault, weapons charges and theft.
Prosecutors said the theft charge was filed because Cox’s Taser was stolen from the police department where he used to work.
No telephone number or defense attorney was publicly listed for Cox. He was fired in April, according to sheriff’s office spokeswoman Susie Potter.
Former Deputy Benjamin C. Lail was charged with aggravated assault for pointing a Taser at a woman’s feet in a control room at the jail and saying, “OK, you’re done, now get back to class.”
The woman was not identified. Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Maria Peterson said the woman was a volunteer at the jail.
Jorgensen is accused of failing to properly supervise his jail staff and putting inmates in danger. The obstruction of justice charge stems from the former sheriff allegedly denying that he received an email from an unnamed woman detailing how Lail intimidated her by pointed a stun gun at her feet.
Deputies Logan Walker, 26, and Rodrigo Toledo, 41, are accused of being witnesses to Cox’s use of the stun gun on inmates. They are charged with misdemeanor official misconduct for not stopping Cox and failing to report it after it happened.
Lail, Toledo, Walker and Jorgensen could not be reached for comment and did not have listed attorneys to speak on their behalf Friday.
Court records show the former sheriff and his four former deputies are scheduled to make their first court appearances on June 9. All five are required to turn themselves in at the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office by the end of May to be fingerprinted and have their mugshots taken.
Attorney General Sean Reyes in a statement called Cox’s alleged actions “unbelievably inhumane” and “a reprehensible miscarriage of justice.” The attorney general said the actions of the other men were inexcusable.
Daggett County and the sheriff’s office had no comment on the charges or those named in the case, according to an emailed statement from Potter late Friday.
State officials began investigating the rural eastern Utah jail earlier this year after Jorgensen reported possible mistreatment of inmates.
The jail, near Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area in the small town of Manila on the Wyoming border, has been empty since February, when Utah’s Corrections Department learned of the allegations and removed 80 inmates, all male, to other jails or prisons.
About 15 of those inmates have now been paroled or discharged, according to Peterson.
Utah Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook said in a statement Friday that inmates would not be returned to Daggett County until state officials have confidence in new leaders and security at the jail.
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