Jail Bait

A prisoner was nearly beaten to death behind bars for a crime he didn't commit. Was he set up by Sheriff Joe's henchmen?

Then, investigators found a way to keep McGee in their sights. They booked him into Madison Street Jail at the end of his interrogation on charges of failure to appear on the theft charge.

After that, a curious thing happened.

Although has was clearly the focus of one of the most publicized investigations of one of the most heinous crimes of the year, McGee was placed in the general inmate population.

Clearly, according to the county jail protocol, McGee should have been assigned to a private cell away from other inmates -- in what is called "administrative segregation." The next logical classification was medium security. In fact, jail classification personnel initially ordered him placed in medium security.

But what finally happened was that someone in the sheriff's office changed McGee's classification.


Within hours of McGee's placement in the maximum-security general population on Level 2 of Madison Street Jail, fellow inmates began threatening him.

They had heard he was the lead suspect in the Byrd murder.

Two jail guards were informed by prisoners that McGee was going to be assaulted.

Those guards, one of whom was a supervisor, didn't document the threats or inform jail intelligence personnel. They didn't investigate who made the threats or how inmates found out that McGee was a suspect. Nor did they offer McGee administrative segregation, even though there were now credible threats against him.

They did, however, relocate him to a different cell pod, 3-4-A, where he would be amid maximum-security inmates awaiting trial or sentencing on charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery and murder.

The officers in jail classification later discovered that something had been amiss that day.

Rick Bailey, director for the county jail inmate classification unit, reported his frustration to superiors in a memo obtained by New Times. Bailey bluntly gave the chronology of events that led to McGee's beating and blamed jail intelligence personnel -- particularly Sergeant Janice Mallaburn -- for placing McGee in harm's way.

"At 3:45 p.m. [May 25], Sgt. Janice Mallaburn from Jail Intelligence phoned classification supervisor Lake Goodwin," Bailey wrote. "Sgt. Mallaburn provided information that McGee had just been arrested and that he was an investigative lead in the high-profile homicide of an 8-year-old girl. Sgt. Mallaburn stated [McGee] needed to be housed as a maximum-security inmate.

"Sgt. Mallaburn mentioned that [McGee] had previously been housed as a medium on a prior MCSO booking. Classification supervisor Goodwin questioned the justification of maximum security since the inmate had not been charged with the homicide. The current charges and past criminal history did not support a maximum classification.

"Ms. Goodwin also inquired if the inmate was aware of the homicide investigations. Sgt. Mallaburn advised that McGee was not aware of the investigation.

"Based on Sgt. Mallaburn's insistence," the memo continues, "Ms. Goodwin agreed to house [McGee] as maximum security. Sgt. Mallaburn advised that McGee was not aware of the investigation. Since he was not aware of the investigation, we had no reason to offer placement in Administrative Segregation."

McGee, of course, was aware of the investigation. He had been interrogated for several hours about the murder. Besides, Mallaburn had reported to Goodwin that McGee was a suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Byrd.

"Based upon conflicting information as reported by Sgt. Mallaburn and Lake Goodwin," Bailey wrote, "it appears one of these individuals is not reporting accurate information. Since this incident will probably involve future litigation, I feel it is necessary to establish the true facts on the chain of events culminating in the serious injury to this inmate. Any investigation including polygraphs are recommended and, if warranted, disciplinary action should be considered."

The memo was a bombshell, as well as a courageous act by Bailey -- who could be jeopardizing his career by questioning the conduct of fellow officers in Arpaio's realm.

Two days after Sergeant Mallaburn's call to classification personnel, McGee was near death in his cell.


It is 8:20 p.m. on May 28, 2001. McGee is lying in his bed in his cell. Most of the other maximum-security inmates are out in the commons room watching a basketball game.

A promotional ad for that night's local newscast comes on the television. The anchor says that the sheriff has an "investigative lead" in the murder of Elizabeth Byrd. The suspected killer's name is Jefferson Davis McGee.

At 8:25 p.m., according to the grainy videotapes obtained by New Times, inmates begin to file into McGee's cell. They rhythmically come and go, as if hauling sand bags to a flood wall. The security video captures their actions, but -- according to official statements from the sheriff's office -- security guards saw nothing.

The inmates file in and out of McGee's cell for eight minutes, until a detention officer opens the security door of the pod.

The guard, believed by McGee's attorneys to be Michael Crane (only his legs can be seen in the security video), skirts swiftly along the back wall of the commons area. He is not visible from one of the two security cameras but can be seen from the second. He scurries about 30 feet to a point behind a staircase.

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