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Virginia Prison Minister Indicted on Sex Charges; Ministries Under Fire

Toney Leon McDonald, an ex-sheriff?s deputy and now ex-prison minister, was arrested on May 17, 2006 on four counts of sexual misconduct with a 23-year-old female prisoner. After posting a $25,000 bond, McDonald surrendered to authorities a second time on May 19, 2006 on charges of having oral sex with a different jail prisoner.

McDonald, 42, first fell into legal troubles in 1991 when he was a sheriff?s deputy at the Richmond City Jail. An admitted cocaine addict, McDonald was arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and for attempting to supply a prisoner with marijuana.

Convicted in July 1992, he was sentenced to six years in prison; he served one year in Henrico County?s Jail West before being paroled.
During his incarceration the ex-sheriff?s deputy embraced the Christian faith under the tutelage of jail chaplain Quillie Boone. Once McDonald was released, then-Sheriff Toby Matthews allowed him to return to the jail in a ministerial capacity under Boone?s supervision.

McDonald eventually became a full-time chaplain with the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, and Henrico County Sheriff Mike Wade allowed him to continue to visit the facility after Boone retired in 2000.

?[H]e did a fantastic job and he walked the walk that they?re walking now. A lot of people could relate to him because he?d been there,? said Wade.

But somewhere along the line McDonald related too well with jail prisoner Ashley Baskerville, who was serving time for petty larceny and possession of cocaine. According to the indictment, between January 1 and December 31, 2004, McDonald and Baskerville engaged in oral sex. The sex was consensual, but under Virginia law it is illegal for detention employees or support staff to engage in sex acts with prisoners.

?We interviewed [Baskerville], and based on that interview, we set up a recorded conversation between the two of them in his office,? said Wade. ?And the conversation between the two was obviously not the type of conversation that a chaplain and one of [the female inmates] should have.?

McDonald was terminated from his jail chaplaincy job after Good News officials listened to the contents of the tape recording.

The tape also fueled an investigation in the jail, and it quickly became apparent that Baskerville was not McDonald?s only victim. Three more female prisoners admitted having sexual encounters with the former chaplain.

?The Good News Jail and Prison Ministry is quite saddened by the news, for the sake of Toney and his family,? said ministry vice president Leroy Davis. ?Knowing Sheriff Wade and his staff, we believe he?ll be treated fairly and given a fair day in court.?

On September 29, 2006, McDonald was acquitted in New Kent County on two charges of sexual misconduct. He wasn?t as fortunate in Henrico County, where he entered an Alford plea (which does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict) on October 12, 2006. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, which was suspended, and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. A third criminal charge was withdrawn.

Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which had employed McDonald, and another religious organization, Southeastern Correctional Ministry, have come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia. The ACLU is protesting contracts that pay for religious services using public funds.

For years, Good News has been under contract to provide Christian, Muslim and even Jewish services at Virginia jails and prisons. ?Good News? clear mission is to provide Christian services, and our concern is that bias ... may result in more emphasis on Christian practices that results in the exclusion of other services,? said ACLU executive director Kent Willis.

Good News Jail and Prison Ministry currently has 390 staff chaplains in 23 states. ?We do not proselytize,? said vice president Leroy Davis. ?I do more work for the Islamic faith than for the Christian faith,? added chaplain Earl Karl.

Southeastern Correctional Ministry was criticized for restricting participation by a Catholic ministry after Catholic volunteers refused to sign a ?statement of faith? in accordance with Southeastern?s religious doctrine.

?They wanted to have one particular point of view, and that happened to be the more evangelical point of view,? said Reverend John Boddie, a Catholic priest.

The Virginia ACLU has requested that three jails suspend payments to Southeastern and Good News, noting that from 2002 to 2005 the jails had given the ministries almost $90,000 in public funds for what the ACLU termed ?explicitly religious activities.?

However, only the Hampton County jail has discontinued the payments pending a formal opinion from the Attorney General?s office.

Sources: Virginia Times-Dispatch; Washington Post

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