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Trouble on the Block

Charges of racial preference. Accidental prisoner releases. Low morale and nepotism. Former deputies reveal the inside story of Sheriff C.T. Woody's tumultuous reign.



During his heated and successful campaign for sheriff, Richmond's most decorated homicide detective pledged to clean up the troubled city jail.

C.T. Woody Jr. promised that if elected he'd bring greater accountability to the public and an improved, more professional jail to be staffed with deputies trained to Richmond Police Department standards.

Sporting a diamond ear stud, cowboy boots and tough-guy street cred, Woody seemed to resonate with voters, who ousted 12-year Sheriff Michele Mitchell. Woody took office Jan. 1, 2006, charging in to clean up the city clink.

After 15 months in office, the man who calls himself the "Urban Legend" has proven more myth than reality, according to a growing roll call of former sheriff's office employees.

Behind the sunny headlines about the department seizing gun caches and the soul-bearing revelations of deputies fired for involvement in drug rings inside the jail, Woody's assertions of openness are much murkier.

And despite the positive affirmations, evidence of jail mismanagement abound:

Less than a year after Woody hired the Rev. Joe Ellison Jr. as head chaplain, Ellison was charged with sexual misconduct with a jail volunteer. There have been inadvertent releases of inmates, drug and contraband trafficking by deputies and at least one assault by a deputy on an inmate.

Since taking over as sheriff, Woody has overseen a jail littered with administrative incompetence, say a number of former deputies and departed command staff members. They describe an environment of low morale among deputies, lowered professional standards and safety practices, promotion and demotion of deputies based on race, and a purging of the department's veteran command staff.

Meanwhile, Woody has rebuilt the jail staff with cronies and relatives who have little or no corrections experience.

Since January, Style has conducted interviews with nearly a dozen former Richmond City Sheriff's Office personnel, researched numerous state and sheriff's office documents, and submitted multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to delve into allegations of mismanagement in the Woody administration. Many of the deputies interviewed spoke on the condition that they not be named, saying they feared jeopardizing their current jobs in law enforcement outside the Richmond sheriff's office.

Capt. Gary Sink was a 12-year veteran of the Richmond City Sheriff's Office. So he expected the usual pomp and circumstance when he reported to City Hall for the department's swearing-in ceremony Dec. 5, 2005.

Instead, he says he got fear and intimidation.

"I was at the courthouse with about 60 to 80 of my peers — my subordinates," he says — "and a guy walks up to me and tells me that 'I was told by Sheriff Woody to tell you that he's not going to keep you on.'"

Sink was taken aback, he recalls. "First of all, I said who the hell are you, and then I said I need a reason why."

Sink appealed directly to the just-elected Woody, asking him to step away from a small group for a private conversation. Woody declined to explain the decision for Sink's dismissal, Sink says, and he describes being reduced to begging for his job. After he pleaded on his "soapbox," Sink says, Woody eventually reversed his decision and allowed him to stay.

But Sink never again felt quite comfortable in his brown-and-tan uniform, he says.

"I was thinking that, well, if he was to the point where he was going to fire me, I figured I was going to lose my rank," Sink says. "There was rumors all over the [jail] about who was going to take my position. I was a stressed-out fellow -- I didn't know where I was headed."

Despite his feelings, Sink began receiving frequent public accolades from Woody for job performance. He says he got over the pressure, but never the bad taste. So he decided to leave the department nine months ago to join the Colonial Heights Police Department. He was not fired, never disciplined and never had his rank reduced, but he says the hostile work environment created by Woody was unbearable.

Others describe a similar environment. "There was this perpetually overwhelming atmosphere that the boat was being rocked," says one former deputy, who left last summer for a state law-enforcement job. "It's hard to put into words. You worried you [were] just going to be ousted at any moment."

Indeed, the hostility, according to many of those interviewed, crossed the line into the kind of hostility least expected in a department that's as good an example of a melting pot as any in Richmond.

The former deputy, who is white, bemoans what she calls a new tone of racism that, she and other former deputies say, fell like a pall over the promotion and demotion process after Woody took over.

"There just seemed to be an overwhelming atmosphere of us versus them," she says. "It was particularly disturbing to me because working under Michelle I never felt that … that 'great divide of race.' But when the new administration came in,  some of the people who got promoted just didn't make any sense."

Another former Richmond deputy, now a deputy with the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office, agrees.

"There's definitely issues with the Richmond City Jail," he says. "There's a lot of discrimination issues if you ask me. It seems to me if you weren't black, you weren't moving up anywhere."

To hear some tell it, you were more likely moving out — especially if you held a leadership position under Mitchell.

Two former lieutenants, both white, were demoted while on approved absence from work under the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act. Woody demoted Andrew Brandel and James Womack to deputy rank and had black officers installed in their vacant ranking posts.

Both men, according to a source familiar with the demotions, were given no reason for their demotions other than it was "for the good of the department." With reduction in rank came reduction in pay, according to the source.

Also along with the reduction in rank came the loss of knowledgeable career jailers, many of whom have left the sheriff's office.

Former Capt. Brian Michaels, who served as director of professional standards, was fired last year while on vacation. He was accused of deleting files from a sheriff's office computer before his holiday, though it was later shown that the files were not deleted, but rather backed up to an external hard drive. Despite this, sources say, Woody sent out an e-mail edict that Michaels was to be arrested if he came onto jail property.

The man who took Michaels' place, according to various people within the jail, actually set up shop in his office before Michaels had been fired — and before the files allegedly had been deleted. Woody also accused Michaels of providing the Virginia Department of Corrections with unflattering information about jail operations, including tips about deputy training deficiencies, during the jail's annual inspection in December.  State corrections officials say they were unaware of any such action by Michaels or the accusations by Woody.

"He promised everybody that you weren't going to get a promotion or transfer because of who you know — it was going to be because you earned it," says one former deputy familiar with Michaels' dismissal, as well as with promotions that occurred when vacancies were created.

Though he has been open about the firings of various white deputies, Woody's promise of transparency has not been borne out in requests by Style for information about hires and fires.

Woody's office provided Style with a list of promotions from January 2006, when he took office, to January 2007. But the office, citing privacy issues, refused a FOIA request for a list of demotions and firings during the same period.

Tara Dunlop, Woody's spokeswoman, says that the jail's ratio of black command staff to white command staff — roughly 60 percent to 30 percent — is representative of the Richmond community at large.

Woody staunchly dismisses any charges of racially based hiring, firing or promotions.

"All of my highest people that are in charge that have been here since I have been here have been white people," Woody says. "I've never had a black undersheriff. I've had two white undersheriffs. There's no racism. I've been fair and I've been open. It will be proven and it is ludicrous to think … the record will speak for itself."

Both of those white undersheriffs, Wallace Vickery and Tom Wadkins, left soon after Woody's term began. Of the current high-command staff, Lt. Col. William Burnett, Maj. Douglas Clevert, Maj. Roger Moss and Maj. Gary Hill, all are black. Of seven captains, five are African-American.

Charges of racism by Woody against white officers have entered the court system. Local attorney Michael Hancock recently submitted a lawsuit by two white former deputies fired by Woody, attempting to link the cases to show a pattern of racism. Hancock says he also has been approached by other former deputies who were fired or demoted.

One former deputy who has filed suit is Robert Garrett, a cue-ball-coiffed, barrel-chested bulldozer of a man whose Southern drawl reverberates with a neo-military intensity. In September, Garrett and two other deputies, including a supervisor, mistakenly allowed a prisoner to walk free.

Garrett, who takes responsibility for the mistake, says it was a clerical error. The inmate was recaptured not long after the release.

But in the wake of the release, Garrett was fired, while the other deputies involved — both black — were not. Garrett was denigrated in the press by his former boss, who called him incompetent and a disgrace. A second white deputy, Eric Aycock, was fired in January after a similar accidental release. Woody accused the two of being in cahoots to embarrass the sheriff's office.

"I have 10 good-conduct awards," an incredulous Garrett told Style in January after hearing of Woody's personal attack. "I'm a decorated, competent, accomplished officer. And for C.T. Woody to say I have no integrity for my job … is just absurd."

Garrett's lawsuit alleges four other instances of accidental prisoner releases, all by black deputies, none of whom were fired:

  • "Deputy David Kelly released inmate John David Young," who, the lawsuit alleges, had just been sentenced to "four and one-half years in prison on 17 felony charges."

  • A second incident occurred "on or about Sept. 22, 2006 when Deputy Shawn Marshall negligently released an inmate," according to the lawsuit.

  • "The third and fourth incidents were the fault of Sergeant Supervisor Stanley Morris, who negligently released inmates on two separate occasions — Sept. 14 and Sept. 27, 2006," the suit charges. Morris' second error occurred the same day as Garrett's mistake.

    In these cases, Woody has refused to acknowledge the escapes, account for the prisoners' current whereabouts or reveal what disciplinary action was taken. His office denied a FOIA request by Style on the matters.

    The city's highest elected official, Mayor Doug Wilder, declined to comment on Woody and the situation at the jail for this article. So, too, did Richmond Police Chief Rodney Monroe.

    By all accounts, Garrett was a model deputy.

    "He kind of is a pitiful fellow who just loved his job," says one former jail co-worker, describing Garrett as "gung-ho, goofy blowhard" who stood out in a crowd, but who had a true passion and love for law enforcement and corrections that made him an ideal jailer.

    In December, inspectors with the Virginia Department of Corrections arrived at the Richmond jail for its life, health and safety inspection. The annual inspection examines all aspects of jail operations, from whether medical syringes are properly catalogued to whether toilets in the inmate areas are properly maintained.

    The jail failed its inspection on six items, all but one of which were swiftly corrected: the supervision of inmates.

    Inspectors found that "some staff have not received required training and have supervised inmates," in violation of Virginia Board of Corrections standards.

    In the jail's corrective action plan, prepared by now-fired Capt. Brian Michaels, Woody proposed to fix training issues by meeting "the compulsory minimum state training established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services."

    Woody's response was not enough for state corrections officials. In a Jan. 12 letter, they informed him that his "plan of action for [supervision of inmates] does not address areas of training that are mandatory for staff to receive prior to supervising inmates."

    Woody insists that only two deputies were not in compliance with the DCJS training guidelines at the time of the inspection.  He also insists that Michaels, his former employee, tipped off the inspectors.

    Other former staffers contend that far more deputies lacked proper training.

    Ron Bessent, program manager for training and development with DCJS, says that records from the Richmond jail support Woody's assertion.  "The only way they could slip by is if [Richmond's basic jailer] academy is falsifying information," he says, dismissing that possibility as unlikely.

    But Bessent has noticed some irregularities at the jail. "There's been some issues with training over there, and their training academy director [John Pancoast] quit," Bessent says. "He'd been there for forever and a day."

    On Feb. 20, a state corrections department spokesman said the department had yet to hear from Woody in response to noncompliance, and the matter would likely be taken up at the next meeting of the state Board of Corrections.

    But a day later, the same day a Style reporter interviewed Woody at the jail, the jail met state corrections compliance.

    "There's no conflict at all with what DOC requires," Woody said in that Feb. 21 interview. "There were two employees that they found that had four hours [of on-the-job-training] to take. That has been corrected. They received their training. We are in compliance with DOC as of today."

    Woody, who denied receiving the Jan. 12 letter from the Department of Corrections, dismissed the time lag between the initial inspection and the subsequent thumbs-up from corrections officials to "a lot of confusions."

    And though now the jail is compliant with state standards, Woody maintains that not all of his deputies — particularly command staff — are required to have DCJS training.

    "Under the real requirements under DCJS, they are not required to be jail certified," he says. "It increases the liability of the sheriff if they don't have that, but I'm not bound to have that unless I choose to have that. I chose to have that."

    Such debate over whether to have higher levels of training stands in stark contrast to Woody's pre-election attacks on the administration of former Sheriff Mitchell.

    During the election campaign, Woody was aided by media reports of failing facilities and the rampage of an inmate who took advantage of broken locks to escape his cell and beat another inmate to death. Woody ripped Mitchell for the jail personnel's lack of proper training and experience.

    At the time, Woody touted his experience with Richmond Police Department, asserting that he would bring the same discipline and training to sheriff's deputies that's standard among police officers.

    He also told Style in October 2005 that as sheriff he would move to grant deputies the same powers as full-fledged law-enforcement officers.

    Neither pledge has been fulfilled, according to former sheriff's deputy Evelyn Owen and other ex-deputies once employed in the sheriff's office human resources and training departments.

    One reason, they say, is that those positions are less competitive, drawing a less experienced pool of candidates to begin with. The average starting deputy salary is in the low $30,000 range.

    "The qualifications to become a deputy are so low," says one ex-human resources employee. "All they need is a high school diploma or equivalent and a clean record."

    Critics of Woody also charge that certain officers within the sheriff's inner circle have received meteoric promotions and inflated salaries.

    Records obtained by Style through FOIA seem to back up some of those assertions.

    Capt. Carol Dabney, who is charged with overseeing inmate services, was employed as a deputy without rank when Woody took office in January 2006. By March, she was promoted to sergeant. Considering her employment history with the office dating to 1999, such a move seems reasonable, says Owen, the former deputy familiar with human-resources practices at the jail.

    But Dabney's upward mobility did not stop there. By August, she'd made lieutenant. Four months later, Woody promoted her to captain.

    Woody makes no qualms about Dabney's rapid rise. "If I'd known her abilities and capabilities, I would have made her undersheriff," he says. "I can name a deputy today undersheriff because that's what the sheriff can do."

    Even more striking is the rapid rise of Woody's son, Clarence Woody III.

    Before March 2006, Woody III was in midmanagement with Overnight Transportation, a locally based trucking company. Then he decided to make a 180-degree career switch, despite his father's wishes, by pursuing a job as a deputy at the jail.

    "I love my son to death," Woody says. "[I] asked him not to come here and didn't want him to come here — my son is a college graduate. He stayed over at Overnight for over 12 years as a supervisor and ran the whole transportation department for them — and ran it well."

    But when his son expressed interest in joining the jail, Woody obliged. "I was not going to stop him from coming here," he says. "Whether it's my son or it's my sister, I'm not going to stop them from coming."

    Woody III went through the sheriff's academy. At the time of his graduation, his father publicly stated that the younger Woody would receive no preferential treatment. Various former deputies recall Woody making a similar announcement to jail staff.

    As for nepotism, state law does not prohibit Woody from hiring family or friends, as it did not prohibit Sheriff Mitchell from doing the same.

    But Woody's own jabs at Mitchell during the campaign for her family-friendly hiring practices raise questions about his own acts.

    And some former staffers question how Woody III rose so quickly in the ranks and received such a nice paycheck.

    Woody III's starting salary was $50,000. He had no prior law enforcement experience, according to his father, other than growing up under the same roof as a man who became a local hero for his own law-enforcement exploits.

    In November,  Woody III made lieutenant and was appointed to head the jail's transportation department, overseeing the transport of hundreds of prisoners daily between the jail and various local courtrooms.

    By comparison, the average starting salary for a deputy is in the low $30,000 range. Even a ranking official, part of Woody's current command staff and an experienced veteran Richmond Police Department official, started at a lower salary.

    That official, Major Douglas Clevert, joined the sheriff's administration from the Richmond Police Department. He started a month later than Woody III at a salary of $37,024. He, too, rose swiftly through the ranks, ascending through three rank promotions in eight months to become major in charge of investigations and internal affairs, and now draws a salary of $63,000.

    This makes Woody III's current salary all the more preposterous, says Owen, the former sheriff's deputy who retired Jan. 1, 2006. At the time of her first retirement in 2002, she'd been the jail's director of human resources.

    "It's questionable," she says of the younger Woody, "why he would come in at $40-some-thousand, mid-40s?" At the time, she was aware only of Woody's State Compensation Board pay, which was $44,500, not his full salary, which includes city supplemental funding. She says she's even more floored by the good fortune bestowed upon Woody III eight months after he began with the department.

    Upon promotion to Lieutenant, Woody III's salary increased to its current $57,200. His salary is among the top five highest for ranking deputies in his father's administration, according to a list of salaries obtained through a Style Freedom of Information Act request.

    Owen, who once oversaw the promotion-board process at the jail, says Woody III didn't have the experience to warrant such promotion. "Transporting prisoners is nothing — nothing to compare to a trucking company," she says of Woody III's previous career.

    In addition to the younger Woody, the sheriff's sisters, Patty Nicolas and Pam Woody Eaton, work at the jail. Other relatives, by either blood or marriage, who are employed there include Leon Henry, William Eaton, Wayne Broaddus and public affairs director Tara Dunlop, according to former employees and confirmed by employee records Style obtained. Sheriff Woody defends the decision to promote his son and to hire relatives.

    "When he came here, I didn't give [Woody III] nothing — [he] wasn't in charge of [anything]," Woody says, insisting his son earned the promotion.

    He now dismisses his own criticism of his predecessor for hiring family members. Under Mitchell, sheriff's office policy maintained that all department personnel serve at the pleasure of the sheriff. Sometimes, Woody says, trusting family is far safer than resting hopes with the hired help.

    He also insists that his approach to hiring and promotions is far better than that used under Mitchell's tenure.

    "There was people here that was lieutenant colonels that was fired by the Richmond Police Department," Woody says of the previous administration. "[Former jail director of professional standards Brian] Michaels was one of them — he had problems with Chesterfield, the sheriff over there."

    "Under the old administration," Woody says, "if you couldn't play softball … if you didn't go to the sex parties and drink with certain people, and if you wasn't in the clique, they didn't care how knowledgeable you were — you wasn't going to get promoted."

    Woody did not elaborate on his charges against the former sheriff.

    Mitchell declined various requests by Style for an interview, stating through an intermediary that she sought to move beyond the mudslinging of the election.

    During Woody's campaign for sheriff, he hammered former Sheriff Mitchell for the physical state of the jail.

    Faulty locks that allowed one inmate to escape and kill were the least of the concerns, according to Mitchell, who during the election attempted to defend her 12-year record by saying the city was responsible for the physical upkeep of the jail. She had even sued the city in 2001 in an attempt to force it to make repairs.

    Now a proposal supported by Mayor Wilder may resolve the problem once and for all. A mayoral committee studying the jail's problems recently recommended replacing the jail with a regional jail partnership.

    Under Virginia law, such a partnership would create a regional jail board, on which Woody and sheriffs from the other participating localities would sit. The law prohibits the sheriffs of the committees participating in the regional jail from administering the jail.

    Woody says he supports the idea, though it would mean that his own duties would then be limited to court security and serving civil process paperwork.

    Thomas A. Rosazza, a Colorado-based attorney specializing in areas of police and correctional facility standards, says establishing a regional jail offers pros and cons to a community, but could resolve matters of personality or ego that sometimes taint jail operations and can come with an elected sheriff.

    Rosazza says he is familiar with regional jails through his consulting work with facilities here and in neighboring East Coast states. "Sheriffs can run very good jails," he says, and they can also run very bad jails.

    "I have seen the jails taken away from the sheriffs when they can [be taken]," he says. "In those cases it tends to be because the sheriffs were not doing an adequate job."

    Sometimes poor performance arises from a lack of jail experience that voters might overlook when presented with a candidate with extensive police experience.

    "Sheriffs typically come from the law-enforcement community, and they're not really trained in the problems of the jail," he says. "When they take over, they're presented with all these problems that are so different than law enforcement."

    But by Woody's telling, the problems of a leader anywhere are no different, whether you're patrolling city streets or jail cells.

    "A good leader always surrounds himself with people who are highly skilled," Woody says, calling the sour grapes among former deputies nothing more than "cry-babying" from malcontents who failed to adapt to the new leadership's requirements.

    But many of the malcontents say their resentment of Woody's approach to cleaning up the jail's long-acknowledged troubles is justified. They say the base facts of favoritism in his treatment of those closest to him, the resulting blow to deputy morale and its negative effects on jail operations could well hamstring Woody's efforts to rebuild what he claims Mitchell broke.

    "I'm showing them at Richmond City Jail that, hey, I'm the leader. If you don't want to follow, you can get off the train," Woody says, rejecting these critics.

    "It's like any other organization, they don't want to accept change. This is a new day at Richmond City Jail. When you're cleaning up a mess, you let the mess go." S

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