INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- It took less than two weeks for a pair of offenders housed at the Duvall Residential Center on Ludlow Avenue to walk away from their work release program. They promised not to go back and cited the alleged prevalence of drugs and threat of violence as reasons why.
One man has backed off on plans to surrender himself to Duvall officials, in the hope that an alternative incarceration facility will take him in.
The other left after he said a corrections officer planted drugs in his bunk area, which led to Duvall firing the officer.
“The corruption going on with the COs, blatant disregard for any kind of sexual harassment issues and racism and so forth, is just horrible,” said Jon Smothers. “They just set it up for failure and it’s really a state sanctioned drug house. There’s so much going in and out of there, it’s just ridiculous.”
“It was horrible,” said Kristopher Tackett during an interview conducted while he was in hiding. “It was the worst experience in my life, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anybody.”
Duvall management said that such tales and rumors about the center are passed around so often that they gain urban legend status.
“We hear that story frequently when residents who abscond are caught and are sitting in front of a judge on why they ran,” said Duvall Manager Shannon Bowling.
The Duvall Residential Center, located in an industrial area northeast of downtown Indianapolis, is a less restrictive site for lower-level felons to serve out their sentences in a community corrections setting, while still maintaining a work history.
Tuesday morning, there were 310 men in the center’s 350-bunk, four-dorm facility.
Duvall won’t accept sex offenders or defendants convicted of violent crimes, but instead provides an essential incarceration alternative for a population that needs to serve its time but may not be an active danger to the public.
Jon Smothers had 17 months left to serve on his fifth DUI conviction, when he entered Duvall just before Christmas of last year.
“It turned out worse than staying in CCA or County 1,” claimed Smothers, who has been locked up in both the main Marion County Jail and the privately operated Jail II nearby.
Smothers, who said he is a disabled Iraq War veteran, filed complaints against a specific corrections officer for what he termed racist taunting.
“Him and I got into a verbal confrontation at one point in time, and I think I embarrassed him, and he put me on as a target, and he spread some rumors that I was the police or racist, and that’s the kind of things that can get somebody hurt in an environment like that.”
That same officer searched Smothers’ bunk area for synthetic drugs on the night of Jan. 31, hours after the vet returned from his off-site carpentry job.
“Two of the guys ran up to me and said they just found several grams of katy in one of my shoes under my bunk, which I’ve never really had anything to do with,” said Smothers, “and about three o’clock in the morning (the officer and a supervisor) woke me up and brought me into the nurse’s office and drug tested me and proceeded to threaten me and told me if I didn’t stop putting in grievances and raising a stink about how things were going in there and nothing was going to change and to leave it alone.”
The search of Smothers’ bunk area occurred several hours after FOX59 advised Duvall management that an investigation was being launched into offender complaints about drugs and gang violence inside the facility. FOX59 was given a photo of several ounces of spice and cigarettes that were confiscated at the full-body scanner just inside the center’s front entrance that night.
“In the last month we have stopped a nine gram amount of spice, we had a 15 gram packet of spice, just in the last thirty days at the body scanner coming into the facility,” said Bowling, the manager brought in from the Indiana Department of Correction to improve the center’s staff training and operations after several years of complaints about the facility.
Smothers found himself facing a felony drug charge and was banned from leaving Duvall to go to work after the search.
A week later, FOX59 advised Duvall management of our awareness of Smothers’ situation and urged that any surveillance video of the incident be preserved.
Later that evening, Smothers said two supervisors called him into an office to advise him that the charges were being dropped.
“They sat down and put on their political faces and talked to me how they would probably talk to you when they knew they were caught on something,” said Smothers, “and said they weren’t gonna share any information with me on what they found, but it exonerated me completely and fully.”
Smothers said Bowling was one of those supervisors, and she told FOX59 what she saw on the dorm surveillance video.
“The staff-person did a shakedown on a bunk and located contraband in the property of this individual,” said Bowling. ”My lieutenant reviewing cameras saw some things that didn’t quite add up prior to the bunk search. Looking further into the camera and doing a little more thorough of an investigation, we found it was possible that this contraband was placed there by another resident, who was asked to do so by a staff person.
“We had a staff person that we found that was involved in the possible planting of contraband on a resident.”
Bowling said she didn’t know why the CO had a grudge against Smothers, but investigators determined how the frame-up was carried out.
“A previous indiscretion occurred that the staff person overlooked, and then this staff person went to ask the other resident if they would be willing to do them a favor because they overlooked their behavior previously, and the individual agreed then to stash the contraband on the other individual.”
Bowling said the corrections officer admitted overlooking the previous indiscretion but denied plotting against Smothers.
The middleman offender who actually put the spice in Smothers’ shoe admitted his role in the scheme and was cleared, while the CO was fired without criminal charges, according to Bowling.
At that point, Smothers decided he had enough. On his first day pass out of Duvall, he left and didn’t go back.
Nearly two weeks earlier, Kristopher Tackett made the same decision, walking away from a probation violation sentence after being convicted of burglary.
“Am I supposed to be at Duvall right now?” he asked. “Yes, but I’m not going back.”
Tackett said he was intimidated and punched by white supremacist inmates after giving 50 cents to an African American resident to do his laundry.
Duvall officials said Tackett’s reasons for fleeing the center may be due to rules violations and resident interactions of his own making.
“I’ll admit, I’m a nervous wreck doing this interview with you, Russ, but I feel I’m doing the right thing,” he said when we talked at the end of January. “That place is not a place for anyone to be. That’s not a recovery place. That’s not a place to go.”
Tackett and Smothers have both put in applications to be accepted into a privately operated residential recovery program in order to continue serving their sentences.
The pair of walkaways isn’t the only problem Bowling has faced as Duvall’s manager in the last couple weeks.
The night after Smothers was set up on the false drug bust, two female corrections officers nearly came to blows, as one was spotted involved in inappropriate conduct with an offender on his bunk.
“She was being very verbally abusive and attempted to physically attack another female staff-person,” said Bowling who fired the officer involved with the offender. “The moment we get a hint of any information from either a resident or a staff person or an outside person, that maybe some inappropriate or unprofessional behavior is going on, we immediately look into and sometimes ask for outside help and address the situation.”
Duvall Director Tyler Bouma said outside investigations over the last year have failed to result in criminal charges against staff, as the center’s internal affairs investigators have typically already ferreted out the information and fired the targeted staffer.
“No staff-person wants to work with an individual who could possibly be dirty because that puts their safety at jeopardy,” said Bowling. He added that Smothers would have nothing to fear if he were to surrender to Duvall personnel, face his failure to return warrant and finish out his sentence. “We can get dirty staff out.”
Bouma said an internal investigation at Duvall continues.
The pay scale of corrections officers at Duvall makes it hard to keep the center fully staffed.
There are currently 15 open positions with just 25 corrections officers to work four shifts, seven days a week, to operate the center.
Starting pay is $30,000 a year.
“Because we do pay so low it is much more difficult for us to attract those with degrees or varied experience in criminal justice prior to coming to our agency,” said Bowling, as she noted the high turnover in staff over the last year. “Training has definitely increased. We have looked more to adhere more to the American Correctional Association standards for training for our staff.”
Monday afternoon, Marion County Sheriffs officials told the Criminal Justice Planning Council that the current population of the jail system was 2303 offenders in 2507 beds, one of the lowest counts in several years.
Increased efficiencies, expedited bonds and utilization of the Community Corrections system, of which Duvall plays a central role, are credited with holding the jail population down.
“I’ve been assaulted in there,” said Tackett. “I wouldn’t recommend the place for anybody.”
“Staff has a hand in it, absolutely,” said Smothers, who claims cigarettes go for up to six dollars apiece, while the price of a stick of synthetic marijuana stays steady at two dollars. “I know for a fact it’s all give and take, and these COs, whether they know people from the streets, they’re all locals, it’s not like they’re coming from out of town.”
Duvall management insists it is discovering contraband and rarely finding evidence of assaults, though offenders and likeminded staff are continually testing ways to violate the center’s security.
“I would say that they would have to be really good at it,” said Bowling, “and if they are really good at it, the truth usually surfaces, and we find out, and we can look into and address it.”