The 2012 GOP primary for Sedgwick County sheriff was a referendum on problems at the jail, including a detention deputy accused of sex crimes against inmates. Now, after new charges, the responsibility to rebuild public trust falls squarely on the victor in that election, Sheriff Jeff Easter.
While running for sheriff, Easter was critical of incumbent Robert Hinshaw’s handling of the case of a jail deputy charged with raping two inmates and sexually propositioning four others (that case could come to trial May 12). Candidate Easter promised to change the organizational chart at the Sedgwick County Jail so he would be in charge and accountable.
Voters endorsed that plan: Easter won the primary with a 3-1 majority and then the general election, taking office in the wake of more sex-crimes allegations at the jail with the promise to “ensure we are providing the proper training and proper type of support those folks need that are working in that facility.”
So now the community’s eyes are on Easter, given his announcement Friday that a Sedgwick County sheriff’s deputy who resigned earlier this year has been charged with multiple counts of unlawful sexual relations involving two inmates while he worked in the jail. The eight felony charges in the criminal complaint include two counts of unlawful sexual relations and four counts of attempted unlawful sexual relations. The Sheriff’s Office account refers to an “inappropriate sexual relationship” and a “separate incident of lewd and lascivious behavior.” Those are serious charges that, if proved true, would constitute a shocking abuse of law enforcement authority.
Easter’s media statements about the new case show a willingness to be as open as possible, given the restrictions of an ongoing legal case and presumption of innocence. “Any time you have an incident like this, it’s a problem,” Easter said. “Do I think it’s systemic throughout the organization? Absolutely not.”
Easter surely is correct that most of the members of the Sheriff’s Office staff are “upstanding, very good employees.” And some of the reported incidents, which range from June 2012 through November 2013, predated Easter’s start date at the county.
But the responsibility is Easter’s to step up scrutiny of prospective jail deputies, improve training or take other steps to prevent more such reports from the jail, which must safeguard not only the public but also the inmates.