Emotions ran high between citizens and elected officials Friday as word spread that two high-profile inmates have been placed on coveted "trustee" status, freeing them from cells and leaving some to fear they would be out working in the community.
The inmates in question are Thomas P. Skene, 55, arrested Tuesday, and charged with the alleged theft of $1 million in stolen equipment and possession and sale of methamphetamines, and Scottie Hoover, 23, arrested Wednesday on charges of dealing in controlled substances and contributing to the delinquency of a minor causing the death of 17-year-old Dietrich Jackson.
Jail trustees have privileges above and beyond a general population inmate, according to Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, though the degree of those privileges can vary. Trustees can perform duties such as kitchen work, outside work details, assignments at the Putnam County Courthouse and general clean-up. The classification is traditionally earned in other facilities, through good behavior and time served, and allows inmates at the Putnam County Jail to live in a separate open-air housing unit rather than locked cells.
Controversy over the prisoners began when jail visitors observed Hoover walking freely throughout the jail and questioned a guard about the prisoner's status. After being informed that both Hoover and Skene had been classified as trustees, the visitor informed a member of Dietrich Jackson's family, who contacted Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter.
"I called and verified it," said Bookwalter. "I was told it was the decision of the sheriff."
The prosecutor told the BannerGraphic that he voiced his displeasure with the sheriff's department and felt that the prisoner's status as "unacceptable and rather shocking."
Sheriff Mark Frisbie defended the trustee classification for both prisoners Friday afternoon, saying that neither had a history of violence nor were they considered flight risks.
Frisbie also said the prisoners had been placed on the trustee housing block partially out of necessity as the jail is near capacity and is currently housing 85 Department of Corrections inmates, five more than he can usually house.
The sheriff also argued that the prisoners in question have only some of the privileges of being a jail trustee. Skene, according to Frisbie, was initially given full trustee privileges, but he rolled back those privileges earlier in the week.
"They will not leave the jail - period," said Frisbie, referring to Hoover and Skene. "They will help prepare meals and go back to the block."
Though he acknowledged both men were charged with serious drug related felonies, he was quick to point out that neither prisoner had stood trial or pleaded guilty. He also rebuffed the notion that any prisoner was being given preferential treatment.
"My administration has taken the drug issue very seriously. It has been our crusade since I took office." Frisbie said. "I don't want any suggestion that we are taking any charges dealing with drugs lightly."
Though Frisbie stated that he had complete faith in the decisions made by his jail staff, and it is the opinion of his staff that trustee status is not a special privilege, he said he understood how people would get the wrong impression about the inmates' classification.
"I didn't realize it would be a problem," Frisbie said. "We've taken action."
A spokesperson for some members of Dietrich Jackson's family said that the news out of the jail was, "more than they could take," Friday afternoon. The woman, who asked that her name not appear in print, said that she contacted the prosecutor because she felt other elected officials would ignore her concerns. "I just don't think I could go to bed without doing something about this."
In the end, the fight over these two inmates has become a political one, pitting sheriff against prosecutor.
"If you don't think you can treat these prisoners fairly, then maybe they should be moved to another county," said Bookwalter.
"I just wish [Tim Bookwalter] would have contacted me directly to address his concerns," Frisbie closed.