by Nora Edinger
GRAFTON -- The FBI is investigating a case involving a former correctional officer accused of sexually abusing three female inmates at Taylor County Jail.
"The Taylor County Sheriff's office is cooperating fully with the investigation," said Gary Wheeler, supervising agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation's district office for northern West Virginia.
Wheeler said he had notified the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday that the inquiry could lead to federal civil rights charges. Such charges would be in addition to criminal charges filed Sept. 9 in Taylor County Circuit Court.
George Shaw, 58, of Grafton was indicted on four counts of first-degree sexual abuse in that court, according to Taylor Prosecutor John Bord. West Virginia State Police conducted the investigation that led to those felony charges, which could result in sentences of 1 to 5 years each.
The Shaw case is the most recent of three allegations of problems at the jail that have surfaced since early 2001. The others are related to public-safety issues involving inmates working in the community and a pending lawsuit concerning jail conditions.
Wheeler said the FBI began looking into the sexual-abuse case following the state indictment and decided to launch its investigation this week. There is no time frame for any potential federal charges.
Shaw is accused of having four incidences of sexual contact with three female inmates between January and July, according to Taylor County Circuit Court records. The case is still in the discovery phase. No trial date has been set.
Taylor County Sheriff Clark Sinclair said Shaw was suspended without pay at the beginning of the state's investigation and then resigned earlier this month.
Sinclair said he was unhappy about the alleged misconduct but has left the case to State Police and the circuit court to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The second-term sheriff is ultimately responsible for running the jail. The jail also has an administrator, Lt. Guy Wilhelm.
While the Shaw case has drawn federal attention, it is not the only allegation of problems at the jail.
In May, community controversy erupted when a convicted sexual offender was allowed to work as a "trustee," or inmate who has gained special privileges and is sometimes allowed to work outside the jail.
Although the man's conviction involved sexual contact with a child, he was allowed to take ballot boxes into Grafton schools while under the supervision of an election worker, said Prosecutor Bord. Bord said he and Circuit Judge Alan Moats received a number of complaints from the public as a result.
The man -- a state Department of Corrections inmate waiting to get into the overcrowded prison system -- was removed from the jail by the DOC.
Moats then issued a court order May 21. It barred any sexual or violent offender he or Taylor magistrates had sentenced from working as a trustee outside the jail, unless in the custody of a correctional or police officer. The order also prohibited inmates whose sexual crimes involved juveniles from having any contact, inside or outside the jail, with juveniles.
Bord said that only partially solved the problem, however. Some of the inmates, particularly other Department of Corrections prisoners, were sentenced under other circuit courts and were not covered by Moats' order. He said Sinclair continued to use some of those sexual offenders as trustees.
After more complaints came in, Department of Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein removed all prison-bound sexual offenders from the jail this summer.
"I know the sheriff wants to do a lot of good around the Court House," Rubenstein said of the trustee program, which sometimes involves landscape maintenance. "I think they run a very good jail in Taylor County."
But, Rubenstein said the Department of Corrections was uncomfortable with sexual offenders working among the public even though the department doesn't have a formal policy disallowing that activity. He said such a policy is under consideration for state prisons and prisoners housed temporarily in jails.
Steve Canterbury, executive director of the state Regional Jail Authority, said those jails already have a policy prohibiting sexual offenders from working outside the jail. The state's 10th regional jail, Tygart Valley, will replace the 40-bed Taylor County Jail and a handful of others sometime in 2005.
Given the lack of such policy covering the county jail at the time, however, Sinclair said he was frustrated by the attention the trustee case got. He believes it was blown out of proportion and is irked he was not notified there had been complaints until Moats issued the order.
Sinclair said the inmates were chosen as trustees because of good behavior and did not cause any problems while they were working. He said the trustees, including some sexual offenders, had previously served inside the courthouse where Moats and Bord work without generating controversy.
The third allegation of problems at the jail surfaced in February 2001.
Keith McAndrews, a former Pittsburgh police officer convicted on drug charges, filed a civil lawsuit against Sinclair and the county commission, according to Bord. McAndrews is requesting court costs and damages in the Taylor County Circuit Court civil case, which is still pending.
Court documents show McAndrews alleged jailers withheld hot meals, mail, bathing water, sleeping linens and telephone privileges from him following a flood and small fire he said other inmates caused in late January of that year. McAndrews also claimed he was not provided medication and doctor visits for his mental illness for several months.
Sinclair said the case is unfounded and that McAndrews was involved in the inmate misbehavior that provoked some disciplinary action.
"Anybody can file a suit, particularly in a penal institution," Sinclair said. "They've got 24 hours a day to think of things to harass the system."
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at email@example.com.