Ripley County Sheriff's Office
(Versailles, Ind.) – A hidden audio recorder was used to uncover a sex scandal involving an employee at the Ripley County Jail in Versailles.
Jail officer Katheryn “Kat” Starkey was charged November 13 with Sexual Offense Between Service Provider and Detained Person, a Class C felony punishable by up to eight years in prison. She was arrested a day later.
According to a probable cause affidavit by Detective Abraham Hildebrand detailing the investigation, Jail Commander Bill McDonald became suspicious of activity involving Starkey inmate Kevin Elza in October.
“Despite repeated warnings, Starkey regularly entered restricted areas, such as the work release cell block and the hallway between the jail booking room and the work release area,” investigators wrote in the affidavit.
Eventually, McDonald placed a hidden audio recorder in an area of the jail. What it caught on tape confirmed his suspicions.
On the recording, investigators heard “heavy breathing and moaning sounds consistent with two people engaging in sexual activity in the work release area.”
Chief Deputy David Pippin confronted Starkey with the evidence. She admitted to the relationship. Starkey allegedly stated that she and Elza – a family friend – initially began meeting nightly to talk, but admitted that there “was a little bit more going on.”
During his questioning, Elza initially denied any sexual contact between he and Starkey, but later admitted to performing sexual acts. Elza was a “victor” in the county jail, an inmate with special privileges.
Starkey has since posted $1,050 bond to be released from the Ripley County Jail. A pretrial conference is scheduled for March 4, 2013 with a jury trial slated for April 23 in Ripley Circuit Court.
Throughout the affidavit, Detective Hildebrand alludes that Pippin offered not to pursue charges against Starkey.
“Pippin told Starkey that if she was honest with him in the interview that her admissions would ‘…not go any further than Pippin, McDonald and the Sheriff but, if not then they would be forced to file criminal charges… which would be public,’” Hildebrand’s affidavit read.
Pippin reportedly told Starkey that the Sheriff’s Office has been “drug through the mud enough the last couple of years,” referencing arrests of other sheriff’s employees and their portrayal by the county prosecutor and local newspapers.
Ripley County Sheriff Tom Grills issued a statement defending his office’s handling of the case.
"The Sheriff's Office not only polices the streets, but police ourselves,” Grills said. “We are committed to holding everyone accountable, even our own, with good judgment and what is in the best interest of all parties involved. It is a shame that an employee here would make such poor judgment, however we do not know what type of social factors play in her decision on this issue. On a greater scale, issues arise in all facets of the workplace, government or private. It only takes on the highest level of integrity to see the issue, and address it, instead of trying to hide it or sweep it under the carpet as some do. As the Sheriff, I am committed to that type of integrity."
Grills offered further explanation in that his office is the Ripley County Sheriff’s Office, not a sheriff’s department. He pointed to Black’s Law Dictionary, which states the office of Sheriff is not simply another department of county government.
“The internal operation of an Office of Sheriff is the sole responsibility of the elected Sheriff. County department heads are subordinate to a county governing body, because a ‘department’ is truly only a division of government. The Office of Sheriff is a statutory/constitutional office having exclusive powers and authority under state law and/or state constitution. These inherent powers and not subject to the dictates of a local county governing body,” the definition supplied by the sheriff said.