by Ed Lyon
Rodney Ballard served as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) from March 2016 to May 2017. He then abruptly left that job with a $100,000-plus annual salary for the private sector, and was replaced by deputy commissioner Jim Erwin. Erwin began his career with the DOC as a guard in 1995. He was confirmed as full commissioner in May 2018.
During his short tenure as commissioner, Erwin was ordered to terminate two prison guards by Jim Tilley, Secretary of the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.
Erwin had issues with the findings of the Cabinet’s internal investigative bureau concerning the guards. Saying the findings were unreliable, he refused to comply with the termination order, telling Tilley that “Firing the employees without strong underlying facts would damage the credibility of [employee] disciplinary actions and have a negative impact on morale.” Erwin lodged complaints with human resources staff, too.
In early February 2019, Secretary Tilley issued a termination letter to Erwin and the DOC’s operations director, Chris Kleymeyer. The termination notices stated they were both being fired “without cause.” Erwin has since filed a wrongful termination suit seeking damages for emotional distress plus punitive damages and reinstatement to his former position.
The Justice Cabinet publicly stated that Erwin’s lawsuit was an attempt to cover up his wrongful actions while serving as the DOC’s commissioner; however, no such allegations were mentioned in his “without cause” termination letter. The Cabinet added that it would “not be intimidated from rooting out deception and misconduct, and we will have much more to share regarding this situation very soon.”
Following Erwin and Kleymeyer’s firings was the “with cause” termination of Johnathan Hall, director of the Kentucky Division of Probation and Parole.
Cabinet spokesperson Mike Wynn said Hall was fired because he “mishandled an allegation of sexual assault.” That allegation involved Ron Tyler, a probation and parole officer whose employment was terminated on January 17, 2019. He is accused of sexually abusing parolees and threatening to return them to prison if they reported the abuse. Tyler was arrested on March 28, 2019 on charges of rape, sodomy and official misconduct.
Wynn added that “while former leadership at the Department of Corrections may have tolerated this type of negligence and misconduct, the Justice Cabinet finds it unacceptable and is taking decisive steps to root it out.”
Deputy Justice Secretary Jon Grate was named acting DOC commissioner to replace Erwin, and Grate was replaced in June 2019 by Kathleen Kenney, a former assistant director and general counsel for the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Sources: courier-journal.com, insiderlouisville.com, wkyt.com, kentucky.com, nkytribune.com, wdrb.com
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