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Inmates removed from shelter

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By Bryan Marshall

The Grant County Animal Shelter is hurting for help after assistance by local inmates was cut off amid a criminal investigation.

Four to six inmates of the Grant County Detention Center have worked daily at the animal shelter for years as part of a Class D community service work program.

Those inmates who are deemed to be a minimal risk are selected for the program in return for following certain guidelines.

The sheriff’s department is investigating whether inmates broke rules by having in their possession restricted items while working at the shelter.

After being contacted by Jailer Steve Kellam and Judge-Executive Darrell Link, Sheriff Chuck Dills initiated a search of the shelter that turned up two cell phones and contraceptives.

A volunteer later found an empty whiskey bottle.

“At this point in the investigation, it appears there was a lot of inappropriate activity or behavior that they were doing while working at the animal shelter they know they’re not supposed to be doing as inmates,” Dills said.

“The phones were active and the numbers in the phone were numbers of certain inmates’ family members,” he said. “We actually connected the two phones that we recovered to two inmates at the shelter.”

Dills said that he believes the jail drug tested the inmates in the program to see if they were under the influence, but the results have not been returned.

The items appeared to have been brought to the shelter by family members of the inmates, said Dills, who was scheduled to meet Wednesday with Commonwealth Attorney James Crawford to go over evidence and determine if criminal charges will be filed.

Dills said Jeremy Souder, director of the shelter and the direct supervisor of the inmates in the program, is cooperating with the investigation.

The sheriff’s office is asking anyone with information pertaining to the investigation to call the sheriff’s office at 824-3333.

“There was nothing that we found that put the public at risk,” Dills said. “We’re just trying to determine how they got these items, why they got them and if supervision was being done properly to avoid this from happening.”

Since the contraband was discovered Tuesday, May 26, the Class D work program has been shut down, putting a strain on the animal shelter.

“We’ve had to pull any available resources that we’ve got, any volunteers,” said Souder. “We are transporting dogs out of state just as quick as we can to get our numbers down to a more manageable number. We have roughly 80 dogs and 50 cats. I’ve got dogs scheduled within the next week that are supposed to go to Buffalo, N.Y., Philadelphia, Penn. and Wisconsin as well.”

“There has been lots of long hours,” he said. “It’s hard to find volunteers to come and dedicate 10, 12 hours everyday. But, they’re doing it. Betty Draper is here everyday. She works and works until she’s done.”

Not having the Class D work program has been like losing six full-time employees at one time, Souder said.

The Cincinnati SPCA accepted about 40 dogs and puppies from the shelter two days after the allegations surfaced to help alleviate the workload.

Juveniles from the Northern Kentucky Treatment Center in Kenton County near Crittenden has been coming to the shelter a couple days a week to help with cleaning and other tasks.

“We’re working toward doing a program where there will be dogs that live with the juveniles at the center,” Souder said. “They will work on teaching them basic obedience and that sort of thing. That’s all in the beginning stages.”

Souder would not discuss the allegations, adding that he had “no clue” where the investigation stood.

Despite the investigation, Kellam said he was pleased with the potential of the jail’s work program, noting that inmates helped build the animal shelter.

He said the jail hopes to expand the program by assisting the Kentucky Highway Department.

“It has a great benefit, but it also has its risks, the risk of inmates doing something inappropriate,” Kellam said about the program. “They do get a little more freedom than normal. It’s also an opportunity to see if they can succeed. If they cannot abide by the rules and regulations set up by the Class D work program, how can we expect them, once they’re released, to abide by the laws of the land?”

While the inmates are now locked down from the shelter, Kellam said it is possible the program could return pending the investigation.

“This is not uncommon for inmates to be involved with some inappropriate things while working,” he said. “This happens all over the state. You’re trying to enhance community services by providing inmate labor as well as provide inmates incentives to be successful in the program. Just like with everything else, not all of the inmates are successful. Some of them are going to fail and make mistakes. When you do that, you have to regroup, re-evaluate the situation and move forward.”