Correctional officers in Twiggs charged with sexual assault

JEFFERSONVILLE — Two Twiggs County correctional officers were arrested and charged with sexual assault against a person in custody and violation of their oaths of office, the sheriff said Monday.

Officers Richard Merideth and James Kristopher Baker, both 23, are being held at an undisclosed location under $50,000 bonds, Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum said at a news conference Monday morning.

Mitchum said his office received a complaint Dec. 30 from a female prisoner that she had sex with both men within a 24-hour period. Mitchum called in the GBI, and both men later confessed, he said. Mitchum said the GBI also found physical evidence against both officers. They are each accused of having one encounter with the prisoner. According to the GBI investigation, Merideth’s encounter with the prisoner was in the women’s showers, while Baker’s encounter with her was in the property room.

The officers could face up to 35 years in prison if they are convicted, Mitchum said.

GBI Special Agent Gary Rothwell said the investigation was conducted within a day and that evidence was found that corroborated the allegations.

“As soon as Sheriff Mitchum received the allegations, he contacted us,” Rothwell said.

Mitchum said that although the sexual contact during both incidents was consensual, it’s against the law to have sex with a prisoner.

“This kind of conduct is not going to be tolerated by any of our employees,” Mitchum said. “It’s a slap in the face. We’ve worked hard to get this office to where it should be. ... This tarnishes everything we’ve worked hard for.”

Mitchum said both men had been working at the jail a few months. He said no similar incidents have taken place since he has been sheriff.

The female prisoner wasn’t identified by Mitchum, but he said she is 22 years old and was at the jail after having been convicted for a parole violation. She had previous convictions for cruelty to children and false imprisonment.

The prisoner was being housed in the Twiggs County jail, awaiting to be taken to another facility, Mitchum said. He said the same woman had filed a sex-related charge against a former boyfriend but later recanted her statement when the case went to trial.

Twiggs County correctional officers receive training on dealing with sexual advances made by prisoners, Mitchum said. He said prisoners will sometimes try to trade sexual favors for other favors such as cigarettes. Mitchum said he would use this case to talk to his other corrections officers the next time they meet.

“We will address the issue using (this case) as an example,” he said. “It’s something we’ve talked over at various meetings. We’ll be having another meeting about it.”

Mitchum said Baker had just finished taking a basic officer training course a couple of weeks earlier, in which rules about sexual contact with prisoners were discussed.

The Twiggs County jail had a dozen full-time officers, counting both Baker and Merideth.

Mitchum said there is usually one female corrections officer on duty each shift for the female prisoners, but with the small staff there are occasional times when a female officer isn’t working.

To contact reporter Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.