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The Arizona Department of Corrections has fired a sergeant at the Aspen facility in Phoenix after an investigation confirmed reports of misconduct with inmates.
Ben Sanders was dismissed April 20 after DOC found he had slapped one inmate, licked tongues with another and may have kissed several others.
"This is one of the most reprehensible cases I have dealt with in my career," one DOC official wrote in his recommendation to fire Sanders.
Sanders could not be reached for comment.
In a bizarre footnote, Jeffrey Ledford, one of the inmates who accused Sanders, attempted suicide while Ledford himself was under investigation for a sexual assault on another prisoner. Ledford remains in a coma at Maricopa Medical Center.
Sanders, a shift sergeant at the special needs facility, was accused by several inmates of inappropriate sexual behavior in February. One inmate, William Enloe, said Sanders kissed his hand and made sexual comments to him.
Reports released last week by DOC show that at least six different inmates were involved in several incidents with Sanders over two or three months.
"Allegations include the Sgt. slapping inmates in the face ('love taps'), patting them on the thighs and lower back, blowing kisses, calling them girls and ladies, actually kissing them on the cheek and forehead while tucking them in bed," Captain Ron Hoover wrote in his request for an investigation.
Jeffrey Barfield, an inmate at Aspen, also accused Sanders of taking his badge off and slapping Barfield's face. Ledford complained that Sanders licked his tongue.
At first, Sanders denied the accusations, saying they were exaggerations. "He claims he has 'not kissed any inmates, but have played the kissey, kissey game,'" Hoover wrote.
But according to the DOC investigator's report, Sanders admitted most of the charges against him.
Sanders said he called the inmates "'baby,' 'girls' and 'ladies' . . . in an attempt to make them laugh and help them relax," the report states. Sanders denied ever kissing Enloe's hand, but said, "he could have made the comment to inmate Enloe, 'What's a pretty, young boy like you doing in prison?'"
Sanders also admitted licking Ledford's tongue. He explained they "were playing a game by sticking their tongues out at each other," the investigator wrote.
"Sergeant Sanders initially denied touching tongues with Ledford. He then said, 'It could have happened. I won't say it didn't happen.' He finally said, 'I'll say I did it,'" according to the report.
Sanders also took off his badge and said he "may have tapped the inmate's face" in the slapping incident, the investigator's report says.
In a written response to DOC warden Dale Copeland--where he again stressed that the complaints were exaggerated--Sanders said, "I will not make excuses but I do have explanations for my actions. During the time periods involved I was under very heavy stress. . . . I probably should have sought assistance before things got out of hand."
Another inmate told DOC that the prisoners who complained about Sanders were lying to "get a lawsuit going."
But a polygraph exam showed Sanders was not being truthful when he denied inappropriate behavior with the inmates. The results of that exam were cited, along with Sanders' other behavior, when he was dismissed by DOC on April 20.
DOC spokesman Mike Arra declined to discuss the matter.
In another twist to the events at Aspen, inmate Jeff Ledford was facing charges of sexual assault himself, just a week after he was interviewed by DOC about his charges against Sanders.
On February 26, Ledford, with the help of several other inmates, held another prisoner at Aspen down on his bunk, tore down his pants, and placed his hand between the man's buttocks.
The prisoner declined to press charges against Ledford and the other inmates. "[T]hat won't do any good," he told the DOC investigator. "I've got to live here."
When questioned about the assault, Ledford said he'd done it to get the other inmate "to quit playing grab ass." Ledford claimed the incident was retaliation for the other inmate's physical contact with him and others, according to the report.
Ledford, in Aspen on a 20-year sentence for second-degree murder, was placed in investigative detention. Three weeks later, he was found hanging in his cell from a bedsheet he'd fashioned into a noose. He was not breathing, and had no pulse.
A DOC medical response team performed CPR until paramedics arrived. Ledford was taken to Maricopa Medical Center.
Ledford was supposed to be checked every half-hour, but no one checked his cell between dinner and the time he was found, because of a staff shortage, DOC reports say. Ledford had left a note, apologizing to a female friend for how much he hurt her, and leaving her his property.
The inmate's mother asked he be taken off life support, but intravenous feeding has continued. Ledford currently remains at MMC in a coma, according to Arra.
Contact Chris Farnsworth at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org