Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Charges allege sex with inmate

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TURTLECREEK TWP. — For nearly a year, officials at the Warren Correctional Institution suspected employee Tamara Welton of Morrow was having sex with a convicted murderer who worked for her there.

        So they kept the two under watch, but no one could prove it, Warden Anthony Brigano said.

        In the end it was notes between them, and a phone call she made to one of the inmate's relatives, that helped to seal the case, he said.

        On Monday, a grand jury decided there was enough evidence to charge Ms. Welton, 30, with five counts of sexual battery for having sex with Rommell Knox from April to October 1999 in the clothing supply room where Ms. Welton was in charge.

        State patrol officials said Ms. Welton, employed as a quartermaster for nearly four years, admitted to the affair.

        For WCI officials, it was the second time a prison worker was charged with such a crime since the early 1990s.

        “It's rare, but it has happened,” Sgt. Gary Lewis, of the state patrol, said. “We have to send a message that it's an intolerable offense, that they will too become part of the correctional (system).”

        Mr. Brigano said the latest case broke when Mr. Knox, 28 — who is serving 20 years to life for aggravated murder out of Franklin County — was moved to a Chillicothe prison in February. That was a month after the Ohio State Highway Patrol joined the investigation.

        After that, prison officials began intercepting notes between the two. They also subpoenaed phone records showing that Ms. Welton had placed a call to one of Mr. Knox's relatives, Mr. Brigano said.

        Ms. Welton quit WCI March 10 in the middle of the criminal investigation and after prison officials told her they were going to begin disciplinary proceedings.

        “The standards clearly state employees are not to establish any relationship with inmates, their family or a parolee. She jeopardized the security and safety of this facility by her involvement with an inmate,” Mr. Brigano said.

        As quartermaster, Ms. Welton was in charge of issuing clothing to inmates. Mr. Knox worked in the division.

        “That area gave her an opportunity to be isolated from other inmates and staff and she took advantage of that,” Mr. Brigano said.

        Ms. Welton could not be reached Monday. She will be summoned to court for an arraignment hearing in Warren County Common Pleas Court on June 23. If convicted, she faces up to 25 years in prison.

Consent "irrelevant'
        Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver said Ms. Welton was charged with a crime because she had supervisory or disciplinary authority over Mr. Knox.

        “It was irrelevant whether he was a willing participant,” Mr. Oliver.

        In 1993, WCI corrections officer Betty Wright was sentenced to prison for 18 months on a sexual battery conviction involving an inmate. She was accused of having sex with the prisoner in the food service area where she was assigned, Mr. Brigano said.

        He said prison employees are reminded annually in training sessions not to get involved personally with inmates.


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