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Trouble Behind Bars is a months-long investigation into Kentucky jail deaths. We found preventable deaths that provoked little to no follow-up, as well as failures at all levels of government. Who is dying in your local county jail? Not even the state Department of Corrections has a true, accurate and updated accounting.

Grant County Jail, Officials Again at Center of Controversy

Grant County Detention Center photo
R.G. Dunlop
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Grant County Detention Center

Until this year, there had been more than a decade of non-stop strife at the Grant County Detention Center, mostly involving two elected jailers and numerous abuses.

Last November’s elections ushered in a new jailer and new judge-executive, both of whom promised reforms. But now, Grant County’s troubled jail and local officials are once again at the center of controversy.

The Cincinnati Enquirer obtained and published last week a surveillance tape of a meeting at the jail last February, during which Judge-Executive Steve Wood, Jailer Chris Hankins and others discussed the pros and cons of firing a long time payroll clerk.

Toward the end of the profanity-laced meeting, according to the video, Wood also told a crude joke and made sexist comments about the person he’d like to hire to replace the existing clerk. Wood said he wanted to hire a young, blonde woman with large breasts.

Hankins has hired his own attorney. A recent attempt by fiscal court to reorganize the jail without Hankins’ knowledge prompted the jailer to ask Attorney General Jack Conway to intervene, according to The Enquirer.

The position of Connie McClure-Ellington, the payroll clerk discussed at the February meeting, was eliminated in June. She is requesting $750,000 from the county and has threatened to sue if she doesn’t get it, The Enquirer noted.

The Grant County Detention Center and the two jailers who ran it before Hankins were the focus of a recent series by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

During the past dozen years, the now-decaying, 280-bed jail had been plagued by abuse, indifference, ineptitude and malfeasance, KyCIR found.

Inmates died needlessly, and were raped, assaulted and neglected. Lax security, flawed medical care, inadequate training and a raft of other administrative failures flourished. In an effort to cover up misconduct, some jail employees concocted bogus stories, ordered others to lie or destroyed incriminating evidence. (Read " Remedies Rare in Kentucky Jail Plagued By Death, Abuse")

While steps have been taken to improve the jail’s abysmal physical condition, the post-election, fresh-start pledges from Hankins and Wood now have been largely eclipsed by bad publicity washing over Williamstown.

The Enquirer reported Monday that the Democratic Party chairman in Grant County had called for the resignations of Wood and his deputy, Scott Kimmich, for the comments they made during the February meeting. Wood, a Republican, responded that he does not intend to step down.

The local party will meet next Monday to discuss how to proceed.

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

R.G. Dunlop is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has exposed government corruption and resulted in numerous reforms. Email R.G. at rdunlop@lpm.org.