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Warden Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Forced to Take Leave from Job at Violence-Plagued Alabama Prison

By Jo Ellen Nott


The warden was escorted from Alabama’s Limestone Correctional Facility and placed on mandatory leave on March 19, 2022, following allegations of sexual misconduct and the near-fatal stabbing of a minimum-security prisoner there.

The prisoner, who has not been identified, was stabbed during what was described as a “hostage crisis.” He reportedly had just a year left to serve on his sentence.

Records from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) show that the warden, Deborah Toney, previously served a three-day unpaid suspension in 2020 for unspecified serious violations of DOC rules. She continued to receive good reviews and yearly pay raises, however.

In addition to questions about the stabbing, she reportedly now faces allegations of sexual misconduct for subjecting some 20 female employees to unauthorized pat-down searches as they entered the prison. As of April 11, 2022, no charges have been filed against Toney.

The maximum-security prison she ran is the state’s largest, holding almost 2,100 prisoners. It reported 48 assaults in 2019, another 120 in 2020 and 142 in 2021. Most of that increase occurred under Toney, who began her career as a guard and took over at Limestone in 2019 from former Warden Dewayne Estes, who had also been relieved of duty over misconduct allegations. Those were not specified, however the timing coincided with reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center that DOC officials had been forced to stop the prison’s “bucket detail,” a practice in which prisoners suspected of contraband infractions were shackled in a cell with a bucket until they defecated in it three times.

During the recent stabbing, family members reported calling to check on their loved one but not getting any information, told instead that staff would act only if the prisoner himself came to them with concerns. That mirrored allegations of a cruel run-around Toney gave a woman trying to communicate with her father, a prisoner who died of pancreatic cancer in 2020.

“I was on the phone with the state,” recalled the woman, Summer Patterson. “They were like ‘Sweetie, [Toney is] the one not letting you. We’re saying you can go. It’s up to her.’ So, I would call her, and she would be like, ‘Nope. They’re lying. You’re not coming up here.”

This lasted for three days until Toney called to tell Patterson that her dad, Kevin Roper, was dead, then refused to answer questions and hung up the phone.

“She was very coldhearted,” Patterson recalled.

Media reports say that Toney has now retired. Meanwhile violence continues at the prison, which guards called “dangerously understaffed.” DOC reported that another prisoner, Javonte Williams, was transferred out of the lockup and charged with the stabbing of an unnamed guard on March 29, 2022. He was serving 20 years on theft and burglary convictions. The guard was taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

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