By John Balch
HOT SPRINGS – The civil rights action by a female former jail inmate against three former Pike County law enforcement employees has been scheduled for trial this summer.
The case filed by Tina A. Morgan against former sheriff, Preston “Pep” Glenn of Billstown, and former jail employees, Kenny White of Murfreesboro and Paul Cowart of Glenwood, will be heard Sept. 3 in the United States District Court, Western Division of Arkansas. Judge Barry A. Bryant will preside.
Morgan, who is currently an inmate in the state prison system, first filed the civil rights action against the three former employees in July 2011, but a revised version was refiled in August 2012. The case was assigned a trial date last Wednesday and Judge Bryant wrote, “No continuances will be granted except for good cause shown.”
On Feb. 6, Judge Bryant denied a motion of summary judgment submitted by the defense.
Morgan, 42, spent eight months incarcerated in the Pike County Jail in 2009-2010. She contends that during this time her constitutional rights were violated when she was sexually harassed and coerced into exposing herself to male inmates and male jailers, according to case information.
Morgan alleges that state-assigned inmates known as “309’s” were allowed into the female holding pods and were allowed to engage in sexual acts with the female inmates. The 309’s would give female inmates treats in exchange for exposing themselves, she said. “According to Plaintiff, they were poorly fed and she exposed herself (in) return for cookies and ice cream.”
Morgan further alleges when she initially informed Glenn of the situation that he failed to put safeguards in place and did not make any changes in the policies and procedures. She said she informed Glenn on three different occasions, and another inmate also made a complaint about the activity.
Morgan also claims she told her public defender during a phone call about the situation and she was informed “to be quiet about it all or it would make my time harder.” Morgan also stated she had documented incident dates on a homemade calendar and had saved two pairs of underwear. Case information does not indicate to whom the underwear belongs.
White’s and Cowart’s alleged involvement begins with accusations they made requests of a sexual nature over the jail’s intercom system and also continued to allow the 309’s access to the female holding pods. The two former jailers are also accused of developing a signal using flashlights for the female inmates to “let them know it was time to perform sexual acts.” Morgan contends if the inmates did not perform “ice cream, cigarettes and food would be withheld as punishment” or that the items would be used for coercion.
It is noted in the case that in April 2010, jailer Sherry Gosney submitted an incident report where she witnessed the plaintiff and another inmate exposing and touching themselves as Cowart watched. Another incident is noted where former jailer Randy Abbott is mentioned as a witness to similar conduct and that he had documented the incident with a camera phone.
The Arkansas Department of Corrections eventually became aware of the alleged conduct involving the state prisoners and the Act 309 inmate program was discontinued at the Pike County Jail the summer of 2011. The state prisoners are housed in county jails throughout the state to increase the number of prison beds, reduce costs of incarceration and assist sheriffs with manpower. Counties are paid to house the state prisoners.
An ADC spokesperson told The Nashville Leader at the time “a couple of incidents” resulted in first a suspension and later termination of the 309 program. The incidents included 309’s being allowed to access computers and the Internet and they were also allowed to fingerprint incoming prisoners. An investigation further determined that the state prisoners were being allowed to pass out medication to both male and female prisoners. Another ADC investigation in July 2010 found the state prisoners had acted inappropriately toward female prisoners and the incident had been witnessed but not prevented by an official.
Cowart, who became a full-time jail employee July 1, 2010, submitted a letter of resignation on Aug. 16, 2010. He cited “personal reasons” for his departure and Glenn said at the time Cowart was not required or forced to resign.
White resigned September 2013 from county employment as well as his position as county coroner.
Glenn left office before his term was complete after being defeated in the last election cycle by current sheriff, Charlie Caldwell. Glenn took a job with the South Central Drug Task Force before leaving that post to work in another area of law enforcement.
Morgan states in a handwritten filing that she wants Glenn, Cowart and White removed from their positions and, “I would also like a sentence reduction. I feel like due to me filing a law suit (sic) and not keeping my mouth shut while in jail that I got a stiffer punishment. I would also ask the court to grant me monetary gain for mental damages.”