More than one magistrate knew the Federal Bureau of Investigation was probably looking into the Barren County Detention Center before the fiscal court voted to hire private investigator Michael J. Ober, but they decided $3,500 on Ober would still be well spent.
Magistrate Gary Gillon was one of the fiscal court members who knew as early as the summer of 2011 that there were complaints of misconduct at the jail.
“I heard a little something about it about six months before it came to light,” Gillon said.
When Gillon heard the rumors, he said he went to Barren County Judge-Executive Davie Greer’s office to ask her about them.
“I asked her, ‘Have you heard about anything going on at the jail?’” Gillon said. “She was writing, and she put her pen down and she didn’t answer me. She answered by asking me a question. She asked, ‘Have you?’ I said yeah, and she said, ‘Well keep it to yourself.’”
Greer didn’t want to acknowledge to him that she’d heard anything, Gillon said, and he didn’t think he should pursue it since the rumors he heard sounded like personnel matters, “no criminal intent or neglect of the prisoners.” Former jail employee Larry Eaton called Gillon to report some problems after he was fired, but Gillon said that again, they didn’t seem like criminal issues.
Gillon thought the state police were investigating at the time, he said, but he realized later it had been the FBI. Even though he had heard there was already a law enforcement investigation, Gillon said he still wanted to hire Ober because he thought a private investigator would be able to talk to every jail employee, and if they did not report any problems, that would insure the county against employee lawsuits in the future.
“I just thought $3,000-$3,500 would be good insurance for that many people,” Gillon said.
Like Gillon, magistrate John Benningfield said he was not looking for Ober to investigate criminal wrongdoing. Benningfield had heard sexual misconduct allegations related to the jail, and remembering sexual harassment scandal and lawsuits involving former jailer Leland Cox, Benningfield said he thought hiring Ober to specifically investigate sexual misconduct could prevent a repeat of the prior situation. Jailer Matt Mutter said in a meeting that he didn’t have a problem with hiring a private investigator, Benningfield said, so he thought voting in favor of Ober made sense.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Benningfield said. “I don’t think hiring Ober was the right move.”
Benningfield had already heard about the FBI’s investigation before the fiscal court discussed hiring Ober. He and at least two other magistrates had heard the FBI was investigating, he said, but it wasn’t a definite fact. Benningfield said he thought Ober could look into sexual misconduct, while he knew the FBI was more concerned with civil rights violations.
“The reason why I wanted (Ober) had nothing to do with what the FBI was doing,” Benningfield said.
For the full story, see the print or e-edition of Saturday's Glasgow Daily Times.
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