Originally created 03/04/03

Jailer to be arrested, fired

A Richmond County jailer will be arrested this afternoon on sexual assault charges following an investigation into illegal activity with an inmate, Sheriff Ronnie Strength said this morning.

The District Attorney's Office also is investigating possible charges against three other jailers accused of paying the female murder suspect to expose herself, the sheriff said. A fifth deputy has been cleared.

Deputy Jaime Felipe Banda, 28, was expected to surrender this afternoon on a warrant of felony sexual assault. He is accused of performing oral sex on murder suspect Charlene Ann Thatcher about eight months ago.

Deputies Stargel M. Booth, Raymond McNeary Sr., and Tommy L. Williams Sr., remain on suspension without pay. They have not been charged.

They will meet Wednesday with the sheriff's disciplinary review board in a special meeting to decide their fate.

"It is possible there will be no criminal charges against the other three," Sheriff Strength said. "The District Attorney is still looking to see if what (they) did falls under a specific statute."

Deputy Banda will be fired from the sheriff's office after his arrest, the sheriff said. A $7,500 bond has already been set on the felony charge. If convicted, he faces a possible prison sentence of one to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Sheriff Strength said his investigators interviewed Ms. Thatcher and the four deputies. The incidents occurred while Ms. Thatcher was being held in the medical ward at the Walton Way jail in a cell by herself.

The investigation shows the incidents began eight months ago when Ms. Thatcher exposed her breasts to Deputy Banda. The officer then asked a tower guard to open her cell, and he went inside and performed a sexual act on the inmate, the sheriff said.

"That was the one and only time involving any kind of sexual contact," he said.

Ms. Thatcher, 19, agreed to the sex act, Sheriff Strength said. But Georgia law makes it a felony for a jail employee to have sex with an inmate because he has "supervisory or disciplinary authority" over the inmate.

Deputy Banda then told the other deputies about Ms. Thatcher's exposing herself. They subsequently peeked in the window of her cell, the sheriff said.

"At times, the officers had given her a dollar or two to expose herself," Sheriff Strength said. "These officers never entered the cell. They would be on the outside looking in."

The sheriff said the jailers should have reported the inmate for exposing herself. He said their activity is considered a "manner of conduct" violation of sheriff policies.

"That is fraternizing and that cannot be done with inmates, especially male and female," Sheriff Strength said.

Ms. Thatcher told investigators the last time she exposed herself was about two months ago.

The inmate is charged along with five others in the slaying of 16-year-old Samuel James Sturrup Jr., whose remains were found in Edgefield County woods in 2001. Police say he was kidnapped on Cherry Street in Augusta on Sept. 3, 2001, and brutally beaten with a metal pipe and other objects. His body was found in November in rural Edgefield County with a bullet hole in his skull, police said.

Deputy Banda has been with the Sheriff's Office for 21 months. He was transferred from the jail to road patrol in July.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.


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