Calvin Parker cringes every time he hears the phrase "dirty cop."
He's not one, he insists. He loves his job, has earned the praise of many who know him and, until recently, has considered Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle a close friend.
But Mr. Parker still expects federal agents to arrive at his home any day, storming in with a fury and putting him in handcuffs.
He didn't help Christopher Jeburk escape from the Columbia County Detention Center, he said. But federal investigators and his boss think otherwise, he and various sources have said.
"I'm waiting for somebody to come pick me up, I reckon," Deputy Parker said during an interview Wednesday at his attorney's office. "I tell my wife, `I don't need to go anywhere. I need to be here if they come and get me."'
Deputy Parker, suspended with pay since Friday in the investigation of Mr. Jeburk's most recent escape, said the past six days have been the toughest of his life.
He has felt under siege, stunned by the accusations that started when two FBI agents began interviewing him at 8 a.m. Friday, the start of more than 15 hours of interrogation over the next two days.
They started calmly, asking general questions about his life and job. Then they began to turn the screws, he said.
"I haven't felt this way since, I don't think, 1968, sitting in a bunker in Vietnam, wondering when the next shell was gonna fall," Deputy Parker said. "I have never been through anything like this."
The 50-year-old deputy, a maintenance worker and handyman at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, said the FBI tried to force a confession out of him, accusing him first of helping Mr. Jeburk, then of knowing who helped the prisoner, and finally of helping because Mr. Jeburk had threatened his family.
But he says it's all a cover for Sheriff Whittle - the man who he said has repeatedly praised him, who gave him a 10 percent pay raise in January, and who often sought his help on building and maintenance projects at home.
The sheriff needed a scapegoat, Deputy Parker said, after Mr. Jeburk's second escape in less than three months. So the deputy was "thrown to the dogs," he said.
"I think he had to find somebody to put it on so there wouldn't be any blame in the operations of the jail," he said. "He doesn't want people to think a hacksaw got in there because somebody wasn't checking."
He said he's hurt by the accusations.
"I would consider the sheriff a close friend until this happened," he said. "It makes me want to cry. I can't believe he's saying that. As many things as I've done for him...."
Sheriff Whittle's spokesman, Capt. Mike Tomberlin, refused to acknowledge Deputy Parker is even a suspect in the case, and he said the sheriff has accepted blame for Mr. Jeburk's escapes from the beginning.
"When the sheriff says `the buck stops here,' he doesn't go looking for scapegoats," Capt. Tomberlin said.
Deputy Parker acknowledged he was the one jail employee most likely to have access to a hacksaw blade like the one Mr. Jeburk is believed to have used to escape. That fact, he said, might have led Mr. Jeburk to implicate Deputy Parker after his capture in Martinez on June 27.
But he said he didn't help Mr. Jeburk, and he thinks the fugitive might have been covering up for his 17-year-old brother, Carlton, who was under investigation earlier last week for supposedly inserting a blade in a Walkman stereo delivered to Mr. Jeburk on June 18.
Sheriff Whittle called a news conference Friday to announce that he believes a "dirty cop" implicated by investigators had aided in both of Mr. Jeburk's escapes. But Deputy Parker said he was at home the night of the first escape.
He said he thinks Mr. Jeburk used his own ingenuity and contacts outside the detention center to break out.
"I do not believe (Sheriff Whittle) has any dirty cops in that jail," he said.
For now, he continues to wait. He knows he could be arrested soon. And the FBI probably won't do it politely, he fears.
He pointed to his attorney, Michael Garrett. "Like he said, `They're going to indict you and then pick you up. And they're liable to swarm in there like they're going to make a drug bust or something."'
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