Sheriff’s Office Clears Itself of Wrongdoing

[by Susan Ashline]

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department has concluded its staff did nothing wrong. This is in response to complaints alleging retaliation against an inmate for making public claims of racism by jail staff, and other wrongdoings.

But, “The evidence available did not support the allegation made,” states the cookie cutter letters in which only the dates were changed.

Inmate Jon Fontaine filed two complaints; I filed one.

All three form letter responses, all signed by Sam Bell, state the same thing.

Here are indisputable facts — ones I can attest to:

State prison inmate Jon Fontaine was in the jail awaiting a hearing that the appellate court ruled Judge Vincent Dinoflo illegally denied him.

Jon had been at the Monroe County Jail for six months without incident. The Saturday and Sunday before the suspected retaliation, Jon’s blogs on my website spiked to more than 5,000 views.

That Monday, Jon complained to me of an alleged incident of deputies harassing him and trying to take away his pen as he was led into court.

I went to talk about it to Corporal John Helfer, a communications staffer I knew from my days as a news reporter. I did not tell him the nature of my visit, and he hadn’t seen me for years. When he approached, he did not greet me. He refused to sit and appeared defensive and angry. He brought up Jon’s blogs before I ever said a word about them. He stated he was aware of them because someone “had sent an email around” to jail staff, including a link to the blogs.

That’s when I talked to him about suspected incident of retaliation #1 (May 23).

Helfer asked me how Jon got his stories to me. I told him Jon wrote them and mailed them to me.

The next morning (May 24), Jon was taken to the mental health unit, an area where inmates are barred from all forms of communication — writing, calls, and visits. Because the jail cannot deny an attorney visit, that evening, I sent his attorney to the unit. The attorney confirmed Jon was, in fact, in the mental health unit.

The attorney also stated Jon was wearing his jail clothes; however, inmates placed in those mental health cells do not wear jail clothes because they are placed there, and writing implements removed, due to their risk of self-harm.

I emailed Monroe County Sheriff Pat O’Flynn, copied in some news reporters, and requested that Jon be released from isolation.

Jon was then moved from the mental health unit.

I received an email from Sheriff O’Flynn stating Jon was not in the mental health unit. (The email did not acknowledge he had been in the unit).

That whole scene was suspected incident of retaliation #2.

Jon was relocated to the “main frame;” an area of the jail known for housing the most violent detainees.

On May 25, I received a call from an internal phone line of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office. The individual identified himself as a deputy. He told me Jon was injured and in the medical unit.

The circumstances that led to this injury should have been on camera.

That was suspected incident of retaliation #3.

Jon was then abruptly removed from the Monroe County Jail and taken back to Mid-State Correctional Facility.

The results of their (supposed) internal investigations confirm everything is running just fine within the Monroe County jail.


Originally published at A Jacket off the Gorge .