MANILA, Daggett County — The recently resigned sheriff of Daggett County and four of his former deputies are facing criminal charges as part of a scandal that resulted in closing the jail.
Jail employees, including the former jail commander, are accused of assaulting inmates by illegally using their Tasers on them, according to charging documents, and in one case forcing inmates to be test dummies for uncertified police K-9s, which resulted in them being bitten.
An extensive investigation revealed even more problems than what the men have been charged with, said Department of Corrections Executive Director Rollin Cook.
“The results of the investigation uncovered not only the suspected activity that results in criminal charges, but a culture of pervasive, unacceptable correctional practices, such as sleeping on duty, providing inmates with video games and holding barbeques for select inmates,” Cook said in a prepared statement.
“The alleged actions of at least one defendant constitute unbelievably inhumane conduct and a reprehensible miscarriage of justice, and the actions of all the defendants are inexcusable,” Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said.
Former Daggett County Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen, former Daggett County Sheriff’s Lt. Benjamin Lail, of Manila, and former sheriff’s deputies Joshua Cox, of Manila, Rodrigo Toledo and Logan Walker were all charged in 8th District Court by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Jorgensen, 64, 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. Jorgensen resigned April 23, though some Daggett County officials contend he did nothing wrong.
Yet charging documents say the sheriff “failed to properly supervise and/or discipline deputies within his department and under his control, even when misconduct was specifically brought to his attention, including, but not limited to failing to safely keep all persons committed to his custody.”
Lail, 31, the former jail commander who resigned a couple of weeks ago, is charged with aggravated assault, a third-degree felony.
Cox, 27, faces the most charges. He is charged with seven counts of aggravated assault and two counts of transporting a dangerous weapon into a secure area of the jail, all third-degree felonies; plus theft and reckless endangerment, class A misdemeanors.
Toledo, 26, and Walker, 46, are each charged with official misconduct, a class B misdemeanor.
Cox allegedly used his Taser on five inmates on Aug. 27.
“The witnesses were originally promised a case of soda if they could endure the tasing for five seconds. Some of the witnesses stated they were tased more than once,” the charges state.
“Cox, a training officer, used his personal Taser, while in the jail and without authorization, in drive stun mode on multiple inmates incarcerated at the jail. At least one inmate was tased more than once, for the promise of soda,” the charging documents allege.
Toledo and Walker are each charged with being present when this happened, but not doing anything about it or reporting the incident.
Between May of 2015 and March 2016, Cox is accused of giving a Taser to an inmate for the purpose of threatening another inmate.
That victim was “surprised and feared for his own safety by the Taser being discharged in the drive stun mode in his direction, causing him to jump back and strike his head on the control room glass pane,” the charges state. “(Cox) requested and intentionally aided in this assault.”
On Oct. 17, Cox again used a Taser “as an ‘initiation’ to the work crew and which was required by defendant in order for (an inmate) to keep his outside work privileges,” according to charging documents.
Investigators seized a Taser from Cox and determined that he had stolen it from the Smithfield Police Department after resigning from that department on Jan. 25, 2016, the charges state. “There is no evidence that defendant intended to return the Taser to the Smithfield Police Department or that the misappropriation was in any manner temporary.”
Between December and February, Cox is also accused of bringing uncertified police K-9s into the jail. Cox made two inmates wear training apparatuses “so he could teach uncertified K-9s basic obedience training. (Two inmates) were intentionally exposed to the K-9s when not on a leash and (they) were bitten,” the charges state.
Lail is accused of using a Taser to intimidate a female inmate. On April 14, 2016, Lail “pointed and sparked a Taser in front of her feet, while simultaneously telling her, ‘OK, you’re done, now get back to class,’ which caused fear and apprehension for (the inmate’s) physical safety,” the charges state.
That victim allegedly sent a letter to the sheriff informing him of the incident, but Jorgensen claimed not to have received it, the charges state.
In February, approximately 80 inmates were moved out of the Daggett County Jail and into the state prison because of allegations of misconduct.
“Once the investigation began, many jail staff members, community members, and inmates previously incarcerated at the jail came forward with additional information that corroborated the allegations of inappropriate and unsafe behavior by county staff,” Cook said.
“Under its previous management, the Daggett County Jail was not safe for the inmates or the public. Those responsible for these inmates and the management of this jail failed to properly manage staff disciplinary actions and significantly downplayed the severity of these acts.”
Cook also acknowledged that there were also “many good correctional officers and staff employed by the jail whose reputations should not be tarnished” by a few.
For now, Cook said the state would not be sending any inmates back to Daggett County “until we have confidence the new leadership at the jail holds safety and security as its main concerns.”
Daggett County commissioners declined to comment on the charges and said in a prepared statement they are focusing on finding a new sheriff and working with the state and governor’s office.
The three-person board is acting as sheriff in the meantime, with Commissioner Jack Lytle as chief.
“Hopefully we can stay focused on looking forward and learn from the past,” Lytle said. “We have great employees and we owe them that effort.”
Daggett County, Utah’s smallest county, typically receives between $110,000 and $115,000 per month to house state inmates. The county has lost more than $200,000 since the inmates were removed.
Annually, state payments for jail inmates make up nearly 30 percent of the county’s revenue — or about $1.4 million in 2016, according to Utah’s transparency website.