Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Kentucky Jail Under Investigation After Prisoner Dies; Sexual Abuse, Financial Mismanagement Also Alleged

The Big Sandy Regional Detention Center, a jail in Paintsville, Kentucky, became the focus of a Kentucky State Police investigation after the death of a prisoner in March 2009. Additionally, a jail guard was accused of sexual harassment and later indicted. Those incidents followed allegations of financial mismanagement related to a stalled jail expansion project, and in May 2010 the jail’s administrator and the former chairman of the board that oversees the facility were indicted.

Big Sandy prisoner Sherry McFaddin, who was serving a 90-day sentence for theft, died on March 27, 2009 after she contracted a respiratory illness while held at the jail. Her relatives filed suit in February 2010, alleging that jail guards and medical staff failed to give her proper care, resulting in her death.

Also in February, the jail authority board voted to fire guard Doug Muncy as a result of sexual misconduct allegations. Prisoner Emeral David May submitted a letter stating that Muncy approached him at about 2 a.m. one day and repeatedly asked him to “close his eyes and hold out his hand,” whereupon Muncy put his penis in May’s hand.

The next day May told other guards about the incident, including Anthony Allen, Arthur Cole and Ranvil Boggs, and asked to speak with jail administrator Henry “Butch” Williams, but was denied. Allen and Cole refuted May’s allegations, despite the statement of another prisoner, Jason Cooksey, who said he saw at least part of the incident involving Muncy. May has since filed suit. See: May v. Muncy, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Ky.), Case No. 7:10-cv-00078-ART-EBA.

According to Trooper Mike Goble, spokesman for the Pikeville post of the Kentucky State Police, detectives are carrying out a “multifaceted” investigation with assistance from the state auditor’s office. The investigation includes claims of financial mismanagement, employee misconduct and treatment of prisoners at Big Sandy. The State Police removed boxes of documents from the jail in 2009, and employees of the state auditor’s office returned in 2010 to examine more records at the facility.

Acting board chairman Jim Kelly said the jail, which he claims has never been audited, has “a very poorly set-up system,” and many expenditures have never been thoroughly reviewed during board meetings. The board oversees the regional facility, which was started by Magoffin, Martin, Lawrence and Johnson counties as a way to save money, but according to some board members the jail has become an arena for political infighting.

Recently, board members were being reimbursed for mileage costs for sometimes daily 100-mile drives to visit the facility; when an attorney advising the board suggested once-a-month visits would be more appropriate, the attorney was temporarily suspended. Kelly also said that the Kentucky Department of Corrections considered pulling state prisoners from the jail because the facility employed an ex-felon.

On May 20, 2010, John D. Harmon, 64, the former chairman of the jail authority board, was indicted in Johnson Circuit Court on a felony charge of theft over $300. He is accused of submitting unauthorized travel and expense vouchers for reimbursements. Also indicted were Muncy and jail administrator Henry Williams.

Williams was charged with accepting a bribe from a prisoner, a felony. He allegedly received a Ford F-150 pickup truck from an unnamed prisoner in exchange for having the prisoner’s wife, who was incarcerated at another jail, transferred to Big Sandy. Harmon is scheduled to go to trial in January 2011.

Muncy was charged with misdemeanor second-degree sexual abuse of a prisoner, and it was revealed that he had a history of official reprimands related to “unprofessional behavior.” Such behavior reportedly included lowering his pants and attempting to hug sheriff’s employees, using vulgar language, and exposing himself to a prisoner. In regard to the incident involving May, Muncy denied that he put his penis in May’s hand, but admitted he “dropped [his] trousers ... [and] then chased May around” the unit.

Following Harmon’s indictment, Randy Madan was appointed interim administrator at Big Sandy. He cited “fairly serious” problems at the facility that included security-related issues, problems with fire safety equipment and the jail’s heating and cooling system, and financial concerns.

According to a grand jury report issued with the indictments in May 2010, other problems at the jail include staff using prisoners for “peep shows,” improper accounting related to commissary funds, lack of supervision of guards’ actions involving prisoners, and the use of prisoners for personal gain by jail staff and their families. The grand jury further accused the jail authority board members of playing politics and found they did not provide adequate control or oversight of the facility.

The problems at Big Sandy, Kentucky’s oldest regional jail, are yet another example of what happens when political opportunism and financial considerations take precedence over sound management of correctional facilities. The end result is that the prisoners – and the taxpayers who foot the bill – are the ones who suffer the consequences.

According to Bobby Waits, president of the Kentucky Jailers Association, the state’s regional jail system “probably wasn’t thought through real well.” Given the sundry problems at Big Sandy, that’s quite an understatement.

Sources: Lexington Herald-Leader,,

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

May v. Muncy