Would inmates working and cleaning up Performance Auto Sales vehicles be considered an Ethics Violation?
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Ethics Commission on Wednesday found that a Cleburne County sheriff’s deputy committed two violations of the Alabama ethics law and recommended that his case be reviewed for legal action.
The case against Deputy Terry Benefield originated from an investigation by County Compliance Officer Tim Sprayberry into allegations that Benefield used his position supervising county jail inmates for personal gain.
The commissioners recommended that his case be handled administratively and be referred to the local district attorney or other proper authorities for legal action. Efforts to reach District Attorney Brian McVeigh, who serves both Calhoun and Cleburne counties, were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon.
The investigation, which went back three years, found that Benefield took county inmates to pick up recyclable trash and sold it at Red Hot Recycling in Oxford. According to documents gathered during the investigation, Benefield collected nearly $8,000 from November 2012 through June 2015.
The documents included photographs of Benefield in a Sheriff’s Office van with inmates at Red Hot Recycling, of him accepting checks, of his endorsements on the checks and of the material he brought in for recycling.
After he testified Wednesday, Benefield denied that he had benefited from the recycling. He had receipts for how the money he collected was disbursed, Benefield said, but declined to give any details. Benefield said that he had been told to take care of the inmate work program on his own by superiors but declined to say exactly who gave him that order.
Sprayberry said in the complaint, dated July 14, that when he accompanied Benefield and his inmate crew to one of the dumpster sites during a countywide cleanup weekend in April he saw the inmates get into dumpsters and throw out anything metal. All the metal was then piled onto a trailer being hauled by the county van, driven by Benefield. Two of the inmates who rode with Sprayberry told him that Benefield made “quite a bit selling scrap at Red Hot Recycling,” Sprayberry wrote.
In addition, while they worked, Benefield would direct verbal abuse at the inmates, Sprayberry wrote in his affidavit. Sprayberry wrote that Benefield also hit the inmates.
“He carried a dowel rod that he would strike them on the legs or buttocks at opportune moments,” Sprayberry wrote in the affidavit.
After working with Benefield, Sprayberry took his concerns to County Administrator Steve Swafford, he said in the affidavit. Swafford then contacted Commission Chairman Ryan Robertson. The three decided Sprayberry should do a limited investigation in which he contacted Red Hot Recycling.
Aside from the trips to Red Hot Recycling, the investigation alleged that Benefield took inmates to work at Fireworks City on Interstate 20 over the Fourth of July holiday and was paid for his supervision of the inmates although he was working in his capacity as deputy.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545 or, in Heflin, 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.