Where the sheriff is king, these women say he coerced them into sex

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Sheriff Eddie Scott’s photo remains at the front entrance of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office in West Point, Miss. on June 29, 2023. Rory Doyle for The New York Times

Sheriff Eddie Scott has been the top lawman in rural Clay County, Miss., for more than a decade despite repeated allegations.

By Ilyssa Daly & 

Jerry Mitchell

JA Guest Writers

Part II 

Ilyssa Daly examines the power of sheriff’s offices in Mississippi as part of The Times’s Local Investigations Fellowship. Jerry Mitchell is an investigative reporter who has examined civil rights-era cold murder cases in the state for more than 30 years.

In interviews for this article, Sheriff Scott denied taking Ms. Jones out of jail or having sexual contact with her. “Amber is a sweet, likable girl on the face,” he said. “But we learned that she’s one of the biggest con artists that ever walked the face of the earth.”

Had he taken her out of the jail, he said, their exit would have been recorded on surveillance video and sign-out sheets. When reporters asked to review such materials, Sheriff Scott said the computer system that logged inmates’ whereabouts was broken.

Sign-out sheets were kept among thousands of pages of jail records stacked in lopsided piles on an office floor. A review of the only records available revealed that Ms. Jones had received at least one home pass.

Ms. Jones’s description of the house where she said the sheriff took her for sex matches that of a place Sheriff Scott said he used for storage: a one-story brick home about a mile from the jail. Sheriff Scott said it was widely known that he used the house and that lots of people let themselves in and out using a key he kept under the doormat.

Ms. Jones shared account records showing that past midnight on Jan. 25, a week after she left jail, Sheriff Scott sent her a friend request on Snapchat, the disappearing-photo app. She also shared copies of text messages between them.

In the texts, Sheriff Scott asked Ms. Jones for “updates,” his code for nude photographs, she said. She felt forced to send them, she said, because her brother was in jail for drug possession.

In one text exchange from 2019, Ms. Jones asked the sheriff if he had heard anything about her criminal record being expunged. A “good update” would “help me remember,” he replied, adding a smiling emoji. In another exchange, the sheriff wrote that Ms. Jones owed him an “update” and sent her an emoji with a tongue sticking out.

Sheriff Scott said he couldn’t remember what he had meant by “update,” but denied that it involved nude pictures.

The only photos he received from Ms. Jones over Snapchat, he said, were “body shots” that he had requested from her as part of an investigation into jail inmates tattooing one another. Sheriff Scott said he had provided those photos to the F.B.I.

Two women, including another female inmate, had seen her in the house where she said the sheriff took her for sex.

On one occasion, she said, the sheriff drove her and the other jailed woman there, had them remove their clothing and gave them boxer shorts to put on. Ms. Jones’s were Superman-themed, with a cape to cover the otherwise-bare back, she said; the other woman received a “Duck Dynasty” pair.

Sheriff Scott posed the women together and snapped a photo from behind, according to Ms. Jones. The other woman, visibly upset, bolted for the bathroom, she said.

A few minutes later, Ms. Jones said she heard a knock at the door: It was Ms. Stange, the jail records administrator.

Ms. Stange said in a statement that she drove the women back from the house to the jail and they seemed in good spirits. She said she had no knowledge of “any sexual misconduct of Sheriff Scott with any female inmates.”

The second woman declined to comment. But in a Facebook post last year, she appeared to confirm that she had been present for the picture. Replying to a post by Ms. Jones describing the events, the woman recalled that she had said, “Oh, hell no,” and walked out of the room.

When asked about this under oath, Sheriff Scott took the Fifth.

The Clay County Detention Center remains in West Point, Miss. on June 29, 2023. Rory Doyle for The New York Times

‘I Knew I Was Being Set Up’

For years after her release from jail, Ms. Jones said she tried to put these abuses behind her. She stopped getting messages from the sheriff after blocking his number near the beginning of 2020, she said.

Then, in September 2021, a woman who had worked for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office came forward with new accusations that threatened to bring attention to years of alleged sexual misconduct by Sheriff Scott.

Caitlyn Wilson, a former investigative assistant who alleged sexual harassment, filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that said Sheriff Scott had made sexual advances toward her and threatened to fire her after she rebuked him. She made reference to other women whose similar experiences had not yet been made public.

“My situation has been exacerbated,” her complaint said, citing multiple women either in jail or employed by the county who had “made claims that the Sheriff was having sex with them. It appears to be well-known within the County that the Sheriff suffers from a sexual addiction, and this sexual addiction has affected my work performance and is causing me extreme fear and anxiety.”

The E.E.O.C. did not weigh in on the merits of Ms. Wilson’s complaint, but determined she had the right to sue.

In the lawsuit she filed in May 2022, Ms. Wilson described a group chat in which Sheriff Scott had sent several employees a steady stream of sexually explicit text messages.

His messages, reviewed by reporters, referred to women as “hookers,” “heifers” and “hos.” In one text, the sheriff suggested Ms. Wilson and Ms. Stange should “tag team” to give him oral sex. In others, he called himself a stallion and said women “liked to be hammered.”

Pictures the sheriff sent, which he called “humorous memes on the humor channel” under oath as part of the lawsuit, compared women to dogs that needed to be trained and joked about date rape.

Ms. Wilson said she decided to file her complaint after Sheriff Scott rubbed his crotch against her as he walked past her one day in the office. “I felt very violated,” she said in an interview. “I was just so shocked and surprised because he was my boss.”

Sheriff Scott denied touching Ms. Wilson inappropriately, saying he was running a high fever that day. “I was as sick as a dog,” he said. “Grabbing a woman was the last thing on my mind.”

He told reporters that none of his texts included sexual content and said under oath that anyone in the group chat could have stopped participating at any time.

When Ms. Wilson filed her complaint, Sheriff Scott assigned one of his own deputies to investigate. The final report concluded that the allegations were “unsubstantiated and punitive” and dismissed Sheriff Scott’s texts as adult humor shared among willing participants.

As the deputy investigated, Ms. Wilson said, she found herself increasingly isolated at work. She was barred from carrying her gun at the office and told to eat lunch at her desk. Most of her co-workers stopped talking to her, she said.

In December 2021, three months after Ms. Wilson filed her initial complaint, Sheriff Scott suspended her then-boyfriend, Jeremy Bell, a captain who had worked in the office for five years. According to a personnel report signed by Sheriff Scott, Mr. Bell had violated department policy by driving his patrol car outside of Clay County to visit Ms. Wilson’s house in a neighboring town. He was fired two days after Christmas.

It was around this time that Ms. Jones, who had not heard from Sheriff Scott for months, found herself under the scrutiny of local law enforcement again, she said.

Several weeks after Ms. Wilson submitted her complaint citing allegations that women in the jail had been forced to have sex with Sheriff Scott, Ms. Jones was pulled over by a narcotics officer from West Point, a town of about 10,000 people in Clay County.

The officer discovered a bag of diabetic needles filled with meth under her passenger seat and arrested her. Ms. Jones believes the drugs were planted there.

“I knew I was being set up,” she said.

Frustrated and facing time behind bars, Ms. Jones decided two months later to post on a Facebook page called Mississippi Corruption, where she detailed for the first time her allegations against the sheriff.

“I was fixing to go to prison for a really long time for something that I didn’t even do, just because he was mad over his mistakes, over things that he had done,” she said.

A few months later, in April 2022, Ms. Jones received a video from her friend Madison Ray, she said. Ms. Ray said she had secretly recorded a conversation with Joshua Fulgham, a local diabetic man with prior drug arrests, because she suspected someone had planted the drugs while they were all hanging out the night before Ms. Jones’s arrest.

The recording, on Ms. Ray’s cellphone, captures him explaining how and why he placed the drugs in Ms. Jones’s car. “I put dope under that seat like Kyle told me to,” he says. “I didn’t even have to use mine. Kyle gave it to me.”

According to Ms. Wilson’s lawsuit, Mr. Fulgham is referring to Deputy Kyle Eaves, who used to work for Sheriff Scott. “The apparent purpose of Deputy Sheriff Eaves causing drugs to be planted upon Jones is to intimidate Jones or to cause her to be arrested so that she will lack credibility in claiming an involuntary sexual relationship with Defendant Scott,” the complaint states.

After the video spread around town, Mr. Fulgham was arrested on drug possession charges, taken to the jail and made a trusty. About six months later, he made a video at the Clay County jail and had it posted on Facebook. He accused Ms. Jones of being a liar out to get Sheriff Scott, but never recanted his previous statements.

“She needs help and rehab, just like me,” Mr. Fulgham said in the video, “and she needs to leave the sheriff alone.”

The sheriff sent a copy of the video to reporters and pointed to it as proof that Ms. Jones and others were lying. “Seems like their plan [is] coming to light,” he said.

Neither Mr. Fulgham nor Mr. Eaves responded to requests for comment.

About six months after the video was made, another potential witness in Ms. Jones’s case changed his story too.

Her former boyfriend, Edward Adam Todd, had been arrested by Clay County deputies and was facing up to 50 years in prison for two burglary charges.

After initially backing up Ms. Jones’s allegations, Mr. Todd later told investigators that he had lied to get the sheriff in trouble, according to transcripts of his April sentencing hearing.

The court transcript shows that Judge Kitchens praised Mr. Todd for his change of heart, saying his statements “cleared a local member of law enforcement that had been accused of something that probably turns out that was not true.”

At the hearing, the prosecutor suggested a seven-year prison sentence for Mr. Todd, citing his help to law enforcement. Judge Kitchens further reduced his sentence, cutting it to four years.

Instead of being transferred to prison to serve his sentence, Mr. Todd has remained at the Clay County jail, where he could not immediately be reached for comment.

Back on the Ballot

Sheriff Scott believes that he will be vindicated and that voters will see through the allegations to re-elect him in the deciding Democratic primary election on Aug. 8.

He has won his previous elections easily. But this time, he faces an unexpected opponent who is an experienced law enforcement officer in Clay County: his own chief deputy, Ramirez Williams.

In February, Chief Deputy Williams announced his run for sheriff. The next month, Sheriff Scott demoted him to work the graveyard shift as a jailer.

When asked if Mr. Williams’s candidacy played a role in his demotion, the sheriff replied, “Not necessarily,” and declined to comment further.

Sheriff Scott insists he will leave office on his own terms, regardless of what becomes of the accusations against him.

He said he believes the federal investigation is over and he cooperated with their review, even voluntarily meeting with federal authorities to answer questions. “I wasn’t going to let a bunch of drugheads run me out of office,” he said.

The sheriff said he had been burned by extending compassion to people behind bars, but had no plans to stop. “You can’t turn your back,” he said. “One of these days, I might be in the same shape.”

He chuckled. “You never know.”

This article was co-reported by The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today.

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Where the sheriff is king, these women say he coerced them into sex

By Jackson Advocate News Service
September 11, 2023