Sheriff denounces video visitation abuses
Schoolteacher suspended after he names her
In a Facebook Live post last week, Sheriff A.J. Smith ignited a firestorm when he called out, by name, four women he said were abusing the video communication system in their conversations with inmates at the jail, mainly through sexual improprieties on their end of the telephone.
Among the women he named was a veteran schoolteacher at Franklin County Schools. Smith shared a still from the video in which the teacher appears to be holding a pipe, which the sheriff referred to as a meth pipe. The inmate in question was also visible, although not named.
Superintendent Steve Lanier said the teacher was subsequently suspended with pay as the district commenced an investigation of the sheriff’s accusations. The teacher, who had months earlier announced plans to retire at the end of the school year, posted a statement on Facebook in which she said that she has never used meth.
“I have never used, seen, touched, smelled, experienced in any way meth,” she wrote. “Anyone who would suggest otherwise either is dishonest or doesn’t know me. Thank you to everyone who has reached out with support. I love and appreciate you all.”
The teacher said she has been in touch with a civil rights attorney.
In an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, State Attorney Jack Campbell said he did not intend to pursue criminal charges. “This is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not illegal to have sexual conversations or even demonstrations between consensual adults.”
In his Live video post, which has since been removed from Facebook, Smith described how the jail had moved away from its old-style system in which visitors communicated with inmates in person, seated across from each other at the jail while separated by a glass panel.
According to an email from a spokeswoman for Securus Technologies, the company serves over 3,400 correctional facilities nationwide, including both the county jail and Franklin Correctional Institution.
“We have been offering Securus Video Connect to Franklin County as a supplement to in-person visits since 2017,” she wrote. “Family and friends schedule the video session online or through the Securus mobile app up to 24 hours in advance and their incarcerated loved one is alerted to the appointment.”
The spokeswoman said video connect sessions cost $5.99 for 20 minutes, or $19.99 for 40 minutes, and with the exception of attorney visits (are) recorded in real time and only accessible to approved facility staff and law enforcement for security purposes.
“Customers are informed that video connect sessions are recorded when they agree to our terms and conditions,” she wrote. “User guidelines pertaining to clothing and other restrictions are set by the facility, not Securus.”
Smith said he witnessed several instances of rule violations by those using the system in which an inmate is able to talk to a visitor at their home. He said all inmates and visitors are made aware their conversations are being recorded and are subject to review by jail staff.
The sheriff said two of his staffers reviewed tapes of hours of communications, and found several examples of sexual improprieties in these videos.
While he named several women who he said had broken these rules, he called attention to the teacher by holding up in front of the camera a printout of an image from that tape.
He said repeatedly in the Live broadcast that he would not tolerate this behavior, and said he was considering releasing portions of the conversations to illustrate the problem.
Franklin County jail rules for those taking advantage of video visitation indicate that visits may be terminated, and criminal charges pursued if applicable, if there are displays of “nudity, pornography, sexual acts, sexual poses, violence, drug use, gang signs, weapons, general gang activity or any other illegal activity.”
The rules indicate that visitors’ dress attire will be evaluated and under the discretion of the visitation staff.
Skin-tight or form-fitting clothes are not allowed, nor are “provocative or revealing clothing, including sheer/see-through clothing (or) tank tops, spaghetti straps, muscle shirts, tube tops or bare midriffs.”
Undergarments must be worn at all times and should not be visible, the rules say, and shorts or skirts must be worn mid-thigh or below. Hat, sunglasses or any items that obstruct the visitors’ face are prohibited.
The rules also prohibit firearms, narcotics, tools for escape, alcoholic beverages, or any controlled substance, including marijuana. Cell phones, cameras, purses or other electronic devices are also banned.