Editors note: This story contains material of a sexual nature that may be disturbing to some readers.
* * *
MOUNT VERNON — A former Knox County Sheriff’s deputy has been charged with having sex with jail inmates.
Jason Hess, 31, Howard, has been indicted by the Jan. 28 grand jury with two counts of sexual battery and two counts of public indecency.
The sexual battery charges allege that Hess, while employed as a jail officer, engaged in oral sex with two female inmates.
Knox County Prosecuting Attorney Chip McConville said the charges date back to 2016. One of the women Hess engaged in oral sex with is also one of the alleged victims in a public indecency charge.
The public indecency charges are a fourth-degree misdemeanor and a third-degree misdemeanor.
The sexual battery charges are due to the alleged victims being incarcerated. Under the Ohio Revised Code, when a person is confined in a detention facility and they engage in sex with an employee of the facility, their ability to consent is under duress due to the employee having authority over them.
“If the jailer is doing something wrong, the jailer is the one who is going to be held accountable,” McConville said. “No one likes to see (these kind of allegations) brought against law enforcement, but we must treat it seriously and run a thorough investigation.”
The investigation into Hess started April 18, 2018, when a female inmate reported that Hess exposed himself to her and gave her his phone number to call him after her release.
A follow-up investigation by the sheriff’s office brought further allegations. According to an April 25 pre-disciplinary hearing meeting notice in Hess’s personnel file, the allegations included Hess engaging in oral sex with a female inmate, and that Hess exposed himself and masturbated in front of at least two other inmates. Hess further called an inmate after she had been released, having obtained her number from a friend, according to the disciplinary notice.
At least one of the complaints that led to the grand jury charges was reported through the jail’s Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) phone system, McConville said. In one of the instances, the oral sex was allegedly performed in exchange for a candy bar, according to information in Hess’s personnel file.
A disciplinary hearing was held April 30, with the result being that Hess resigned, effective May 17.
Hess’s personnel file was obtained by the News in a public records request last year. Knox County Sheriff David Shaffer told the News on May 4 that the only concrete evidence against Hess at that time was that he had given out his number to an inmate, which was a violation of the jail’s employee handbook.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation was given the investigation by Shaffer sometime after April, McConville said. BCI concluded their investigation “and gave me the file close to the end of the year” for consideration of charges, McConville said.
McConville said that while most of the jail is monitored by surveillance cameras, there are areas that are not. Those areas include showers and bathrooms, McConville said.
Some of the alleged sexual activity occurred in areas that are not under camera surveillance, McConville said.
McConville said Hess will be booked in to the Knox County Jail on the charges, but will be held at a jail in another county, possibly Delaware.
Hess completed his peace officer training in 2010. He worked as an auxiliary officer at Fredericktown Police Department and Knox County Juvenile Probation before being hired on at the jail in 2011. According to his personnel file, Hess generally received good work performance scores in annual reviews. Past discipline against Hess included “counseling” notations for failing to attend training sessions.