Accusations revealed in Decatur County prison investigation report

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Decatur County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to pay Ed Mercer $3,060 Tuesday for his investigation at the Decatur County Correctional Institute pertaining to allegations of misconduct and mismanagement by former warden Elijah McCoy.

Commissioner George Anderson disagreed with the final invoice, claiming that original discussions with Mercer were in the $1,000 range. Commissioner Russell Smith abstained from voting because of his involvement in bringing Mercer on board for the investigation.

“It would have cost the county more under any other option,” said Perry Henry, former interim county administrator. “If you all remember when we called (Mercer) in, he really didn’t have a set figure on anything. He threw out a figure of $1,000, but he wasn’t really sure. The commissioners agreed that we really weren’t going to hold him to that, because we didn’t know what he was getting into.”

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Mercer’s investigation lasted from July 14 to July 16, and then continued from July 22 to July 27. During that time, McCoy was suspended with pay. He resigned on July 30.

Mercer conducted a total of 36 interviews with employees at the prison, spending a total of 102 hours on the case and charging $30 per hour.

Allegations from subjects included “improper conduct” and claims that McCoy had prison employees use county vehicles to pick up his granddaughter and bring her to the institution, according to Mercer’s findings. Interviewees claimed the granddaughter would sometimes remain at the main gate and other times be taken inside the prison in locations where a convicted child molester had access.

Mercer’s findings also revealed allegations of theft by McCoy, where he would order food through Trinity food services for the prison and have certain products labeled with “Warden.” The items were paid for by Decatur County and never cooked in the prison’s kitchen, the report states. Food ranged from cooking oil, Tilapia fish, chicken wings and chicken halves, according to Mercer’s report.

The report also had accusations from employees that McCoy was dating an officer.  Mercer interviewed a subject who stated McCoy had been dating the officer for all eight years they had been working at the DCCI. The subject claimed McCoy and the officer were having an affair. Another account stated McCoy would relieve the officer of her duties, both would get into McCoy’s vehicle and they would be gone for hours at a time.

Findings also revealed McCoy had no written policy to determine termination, that McCoy used a county vehicle at least two times to attend the federal trial in Albany between Sheriff’s Office deputies and the U.S. government and allegations that McCoy would not conduct himself in a professional manner or have the best interest of the staff at heart, according to Mercer’s report.

“Had McCoy not resigned, there would certainly have been administrative disciplinary actions taken,” county administrator Alan Thomas said. “With his resignation, that somewhat negates that. Based on the fact-findings I viewed, I don’t see any course of action further or beyond that.”

Thomas said deputy wardens Gordon Screen and Anita Johnson would continue to run the DCCI, as they have been doing since McCoy’s suspension. At some point, the board would determine to either place an interim or seek out a permanent warden, he said.