Originally created 09/23/04

Screven Sheriff admits paying inmates



Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile admitted Wednesday that he put inmates to work at his house but said it was OK because he paid them for their labor.

Sheriff Kile said he used inmate workers and allowed deputies to do the same, according to a report by Savannah television station WTOC.

"About five or six years ago, I had some do some work on my home," he said in his second interview this week with WTOC. "Five or six years ago, I think we paid them $8 an hour."

Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig, whose district does not include Screven County, said the sheriff still broke the law. For a sheriff, he said, each offense constitutes a felony - a violation of the oath of office.

Prisoners are not in an equal bargaining position, so Sheriff Kile's putting them to work for himself violates their civil rights, Mr. Craig said.

Also in the TV interview, the sheriff denied a claim in a Sunday report in The Augusta Chronicle that an inmate worked on his campaign signs, saying the man wasn't in jail at the time. Former inmate Johnny Roundtree said he painted the signs while jailed and provided the newspaper a photo of him touching up a sign. Sheriff Kile said the man, whom he didn't name, asked whether he could work on the signs.

"He was broke as usual. I said go ahead and do what you want to with them," Sheriff Kile said. "He fixed them and dolled them up a little bit, and I gave him $100 for his troubles."

The Chronicle talked to 10 former inmates who said they either worked on campaign signs or saw other prisoners working on them. Five men said they saw Mr. Roundtree working on the sheriff's signs while he was an inmate. Former deputy Gayla Reffner also said the inmate painted signs.

Sheriff Kile did not return a phone call left at his office.

The Georgia Sheriffs' Association has begun an informal inquiry into allegations against Screven County Sheriff Mike Kile. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI are also involved in the case.