NEDRA PICKLER,Associated Press STEVE PEOPLES,Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The head of the Regional Jail Authority says that when a guard accused of sexual misconduct can collect severance pay behind bars, it's time to overhaul the system.
Director Joe DeLong says West Virginia needs a better way to deal with correctional officers who are accused of breaking the law, and he will work with legislators on how to suspend and terminate them. State laws currently require that they be paid their severance within 15 days of dismissal.
The Charleston Daily Mail (http://bit.ly/TemIxj) says that in the case of 29-year-old William Roy Wilson of Beckley, the $3,100 severance check was issued while he sat behind bars at Southern Regional Jail — the same jail where he allegedly abused three female inmates.
Wilson also faces multiple civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct at the jail. Two were settled out of court.
The Legislature passed a law earlier this year that makes sexual contact between people under supervision and officers, contractors or other staff a felony. Another law makes clear that consent cannot be a defense.
The State Police investigator who arrested Wilson says he was trading sex for cigarettes.
The state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has assigned an investigator from another state agency to investigate Wilson's case, which DeLong says shows a disturbing pattern.
"It appears there were several allegations for many years against this officer that went uninvestigated," he said.
The state needs a zero-tolerance policy for officers who abuse their power, but DeLong said he doesn't want to punish those who are wrongly accused.
He said he'll work with legislators and the Communications Workers of America, which advocates for correctional officers, to find a middle ground that provides more flexibility.
Officers who are accused of crimes are automatically suspended without pay, he said. If they're cleared, they get back pay.
But DeLong said some cleared officers "were pawning off some of their belongings to make their bills."
"We starve them out," he said, "which just isn't fair to these folks."
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com