by Eric Stearley
On Sunday, Feb. 23, Wabash County Sheriff Bob Land terminated Reserve Deputy Walter W. Woods after a departmental investigation revealed that Woods violated a work release agreement with Community Corrections. Under this agreement, an inmate housed in the Wabash County Jail was allowed to work full-time for Tri-W Plumbing Heating & AC, a business owned and operated by Woods.
The investigation, with which both the inmate and Woods fully cooperated, revealed that the inmate violated multiple parts of the agreement while under the supervision of Woods. The most serious of the violations was crossing the state border into Illinois with members of Woods’ family and the inmate’s girlfriend on Feb. 15. All violations took place while the inmate was on release while working for Woods at Tri-W.
The termination comes just two weeks after Woods filed for candidacy to run against Sheriff Land (as well as Jim Eubank) in the upcoming election for Sheriff.
On the morning of Feb. 24, Sheriff Land issued an extensive statement on the matter, which has been included in full below:
“As sheriff of Wabash County, I am responsible for all inmates in my facility, including the Work Release Program. The Work Release Program is maintained and operated through Community Corrections.
“On Feb. 18, 2014, the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department was notified by Community Corrections that an inmate in the Community Corrections program at the Wabash County jail violated his work release agreement by traveling out of state without permission. His agreement allows him to work for a local business, with certain restrictions. The restrictions for this inmate included:
- Participants may be released to work at a place of full-time employment within Wabash, Miami, Kosciusko, Fulton, Huntington or Grant counties in the state of Indiana. The participants may work outside of the counties listed above only in order to maintain employment which he or she held prior to beginning their current sentence.
- Participants are responsible to provide their own transportation. They must go directly to the job site, remain at the job site throughout the work shift, and return directly to the Community Corrections facility after work. Authorized exceptions to this policy are at the discretion of the Community Corrections staff.
- Work release participants may not enter any restaurant or establishment that sells food items while they are part of the Work Release Program. There are no exceptions to this policy unless the program participant drives himself or herself to work and has to purchase gas for his or her personal vehicle.
- Participants who leave work earlier than scheduled, for any reason, must return immediately to the Community Corrections Work Release facility.
- Work release participants are accountable to the Community Corrections staff for their whereabouts and activities at all times. Providing false information or falsifying employer documentation will result in disciplinary sanctions.
“These restrictions were given to the inmate’s employer on Aug. 28, 2013, at which time the employer agree to and signed. The local business that the inmate works for is operated by one of my reserve deputies, Walter Woods.
“The inmate was scheduled to work for his employer on Feb. 15, 2014. The Community Corrections staff determined that the inmate in question travelled to the state of Illinois on Feb. 15, 2014 without permission. This was confirmed through a GPS tracking system which is used by Community Corrections. The Community Corrections staff filed paperwork against the inmate for violating this Work Release agreement, for which he was remanded back to the Department of Corrections.
“As Sheriff, it is my duty to see that the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department operates with integrity and professionalism, and that no employee, on or off duty, brings disrespect in any way to the department. Once I learned of this situation, a departmental investigation was initiated to determine if Mr. Woods was in any way involved with the inmate’s Work Release violation. My Chief Deputy, Major Randy Miller, conducted the departmental investigation.
“During the departmental investigation, it was found that the inmate did not travel to Illinois with Mr. Woods, his employer, but in fact travelled with the employer’s son, his fiancé, two small children, and an unknown person later identified as the inmate’s girlfriend. The reason for travelling to Illinois was to pick up a horse for his employer as a gift for the employer’s grandchildren. Mr. Woods was aware of this and allowed it to happen. On the trip, the inmate was allowed to go into at least two convenience stores.
“Mr. Woods fully cooperated with the departmental investigation.
“After gathering all of the information, Mr. Woods was terminated as a reserve deputy for the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department on Feb. 23, 2014 for the following reasons:
- Mr. Woods allowed the inmate to leave the state of Indiana without permission.
- The inmate was allowed to go into public places.
- The inmate could have escaped at any time.
- Mr. Woods did not have direct control of the inmate. Mr. Woods relied upon family members to oversee security on the inmate.
- Mr. Woods utilized the inmate for personal use.
“I am releasing this information to the public in order to quash any indication that Mr. Woods’ dismissal from the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department Reserves was politically motivated. It is unfortunate and bad timing, but I handled this as I would any other employee.”
Woods offered a brief response to the termination, but withheld a full response until speaking with his attorney Tuesday.
“We have received a copy of the news release from the Wabash County Sheriff’s Office regarding a work release person who worked for Tri-W, and we are evaluating the statement with my attorney,” said Woods. “After the meeting, I will have a full statement in regards to the alleged statements.”