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Former New Hampshire Deputy Forced Non Compensated Labor On Prisoners

By: Bob Williams

Portsmouth, New Hampshire former deputy sheriff Matthew Ejma received 200 hours of community service and a $2,500 fine after using Portsmouth Jail work release prisoners for his personal gain. The prisoners were never compensated for their labor.

Ejma was assigned to utilize the prisoners to provide landscape service at the National Guard Armory in Portsmouth. At least four prisoners worked for him on a regular basis. Prisoners on work crews seldom made waves and considered it a privilege and preferred the work to being stuck at the jail. They claimed that Ejma was supposed to save their earnings and would provide a lump sum upon their release, which in their estimation was desirable. The prisoners enjoyed the chance to travel around virtually free and make money in lieu of being incarcerated at the jail.

One day a tip came from a WAVY News 10 viewer that Ejma was using the prisoners in various cities at private residences for his personal gain. A News 10 helicopter followed the former deputy and his crew to the City of Chesapeake where the four prisoners remained in a yard unsupervised while Ejma remained in the house. They had free and repeated access to the county work vehicle. After they finished, the helicopter, while filming the incident, followed them back to the Armory.

The tape was shown to Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson and later to Commonwealth Attorney Earle Mobley. Watson denied any knowledge of Ejma's actions but vowed to "get to the bottom of it" and said he'd not received "any correspondence" from prisoners regarding the matter. Prisoner Donald Self said he was "tired of being a slave" and "making this man all of this money," and that they had never been paid for cleaning Ejma's house. Prisoner David King stated "we were in a catch-22" and complained daily "to other deputies about it." Watson told his staff "Call deputy Ejma...have him report to my office this afternoon and bring his badge... He's done." Watson said "We can't follow him around all day every day and watch him," but assumed full responsibility as sheriff and assured that polygraphs would be implemented and that anyone having knowledge of or participating in the illicit activities would be fired. Mobley commented "This is something that's troubling to me. These people are inmates and they should never be forced into any labor like this." This type of incident reportedly occurred under the command of previous sheriff Gary Water. The charges in both cases were to be submitted to a grand jury for the determination of criminal charges. Source: WAVY article "Former Deputy Pleads Guilty To Using Inmate Labor As Private Workforce," Dec. 13, 2006.

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