FARMINGTON - Sparks are flying over when funds placed in inmate accounts by family and friends can legally be accessed by the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.
The sharp disagreement involves County Attorney Troy Rawlings, Sheriff’s Business Manager Keith Major and at least one defense attorney.
It involves the Pay For Stay (PFS), $10 a day charge that families can pay as a sort of room and board for an inmate. The inmates can access some funds to buy snacks, toiletries, tennis shoes, etc., from the jail store.
That policy, as explained by Rawlings, allows the county to “try to collect $10 per day for a stay. But they can’t do it until sentencing. If it’s an indigent inmate, the judge can waive it. The primary victim of a crime is supposed to be paid first. The jail is lower on the scale.”
And as of Monday, a source thatasked not to be named said Second District Court Judge Michael Allphin had weighed in on the issue.
“He ripped the Sheriff’s Office, on the record, in court,” the unnamed source said.
“We were doing it correctly,” Major said Tuesday of how his office was handling the PFS . “That’s when Pay for Stay begins the qualification. Once they’ve (inmates) been sentenced in the statute, it’s mandatory, Major said about the withdrawal process of funds.
“Some still say it (withdrawal) has to be ordered by a judge,” but he said there is disagreement to the point some legislators want to tackle the issue, possibly in the next legislative session.
Major said the inmates don’t have to have more than $10 in their accounts.
“We probably have 20 to 30 families who pay this PFS ahead,” he said. “Our policy is we can take anything above $10. That’s our right. It’s a collection. We’re complying with the collection law. It’s a debt owed to the county.”
“We still have some basis of disagreement whether it is or isn’t mandatory” for a judge’s ruling or if the funds can be withdrawn at sentencing, Major said.
“We’ve had some dialogue for some time to reach common ground on what is permitted, what is good policy,” said County Legal Defender/Director Todd Utzinger.
“There has been open communication. I think we’re nearing some determinations that will address some of the concerns I’ve raised,” he said. “I think Sheriff (Todd) Richardson made a good faith effort to get to the bottom of this in terms of how it’s implemented and what is allowed under the law.
“Obviously this is a concern for inmates and their families. In terms of questions of why they’re being billed, we’ve had dozens of those,” Utzinger said.
“The sheriff and county attorney have engaged in an ongoing dialogue to resolve this problem, so it protects inmates and the interests of the county,” he added.
“It’s difficult to get decisions from our county attorney’s office,” Major said. “He was telling us we were doing it wrong. We talked to the County Sheriff’s Association.” Major also contacted CSA attorney Reed Richards.
“We have emails and communications with Keith (Major) going back to last summer, verifying that he was advised by our office that the practice he began employing was not appropriate and not in conformance with the law,” Rawlings told the Clipper.
“Keith Major’s history of what happened is blatantly inaccurate,” Rawlings said. “We got back to him multiple times, and he (Major) chose to find a contrary opinion because he didn’t like us telling him what the law was, and that he has to comply.”
Richardson said the current billing process started in 2007, under the administration of former sheriff Bud Cox.
“We first noticed things were not functioning the right way. It was probably late in 2013 that I was notified,” Richardson said.
All billing was stopped until a meeting could be held with Rawlings, the sheriff said. “On March 10, we met with the county attorney to structure a program to be sure nothing is being done inappropriately.”
“We’ve got a policy in place, something everybody can agree on, that goes in the right direction,” Richardson said. “As an organization, it doesn’t matter how it was done prior. If we see an issue we fix it and move forward.”
“The elderly widow the defendant owes $200,000 to, that person has priority over Davis County,” the county attorney said as an example.
Just because an inmate has been found guilty, that doesn’t mean the jail can collect, Rawlings emphasized. “If they’re not convicted, they’re never liable.”
District Court Judge Michael Allphin has ordered that funds taken from accounts of inmates at the Davis County Jail cease immediately.
In an order issued today, Wednesday, April 9 and obtained by The Davis Clipper, he said the order affects all criminal cases over which he presides.
The order says that the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson, and Davis County Sheriff’s Office Business Manager Keith Major “shall immediately cease the taking of funds” from such inmates.
The Clipper will update this story as more information becomes available throughout the week.