Newberry asks state group to investigate jail

Mayor Jim Newberry has asked the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights to investigate allegations of "a sexually hostile work environment" at the Fayette County Detention Center, officials said Monday.

"The Kentucky Commission will conduct a thorough, neutral and independent investigation," said a December 22 letter from John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, to Newberry.

Last month, Newberry called for an independent investigation into management and personnel policies at the detention center, which faces at least three lawsuits alleging sexual harassment, sexual discrimination or retaliation by male corrections officers.

Victoria Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the commission, said Monday that a report will be made public at end of the investigation. She said she did not know how long it would take.

As a state agency, the commission routinely investigates claims of sexual harassment. It is performing the service at no charge to the city.

On Monday, Lexington Vice-Mayor Jim Gray, who is running against Newberry for Mayor, said he was concerned that the commission "doesn't have the expertise to dig into root causes which may involve leadership, management and accountability."

"I would encourage a more aggressive and thorough examination by an entity whose expertise is jail operations, " Gray said.

The three lawsuits and other jail documents outline allegations of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior by male employees at the jail against female inmates and a corrections officer.

In one incident, a male corrections officer at the jail resigned in August after jail officials determined that he showed a cell phone photo of his penis to a female inmate, according to an internal affairs report.

In a lawsuit filed last month, corrections officer Charlotte Trotter alleged that her supervisor, Major Michael Korb, sexually harassed her and that jail officials retaliated against her for reporting it.

Trotter alleged that Maj. Michael Korb grabbed his crotch and yelled "you know you want this."

In a lawsuit filed in January, corrections officer Doris Zirbes said she was stripped of her rank and placed on leave by jail Director Ron Bishop when she talked to Lexington police and Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson about problems at the jail.

The problems involved an employee of the Administrative Office of Courts who was allowed to make decisions involving the release of inmates even though he was a persistent felony offender. Zirbes' complaint also alleges that the AOC employee gave some female inmates preferential treatment.

In the aftermath of Zirbes' lawsuit, the AOC changed its policies and will no longer will allow felons to make decisions about criminal defendants, but Zirbes has alleged that the retaliation against her continues.

The most recent lawsuit was filed by corrections officer Tanya Newcomb, who alleged that her supervisor, Capt. Dwight Hall, retaliated against her for filing a complaint.

Jail officials have confirmed that, outside of the employees named in the lawsuit, at least two other corrections officers — a male and female—have been fired as a result of sexually inappropriate behavior.

The FBI also has been investigating allegations that corrections officers abused the civil rights of some inmates in the jail since at least January 2006, which was before Newberry took office.

Bishop could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday afternoon. But in a Herald-Leader interview last month, he said he welcomed the investigation and would cooperate fully.

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