THE MICHAEL OWENS STORYAS TOLD TO Investigative Reporter JOHN TAFT.
Comments One-Year After Publication of Owens’ Story
In the fall of 1999, the following story was published in both the Oregon Observer and the Josephine County Taxpayers Association’s Newsletter (JCTA). At the time, I was president of JCTA, a 501 C3 organization that is chartered to educate the public regarding taxation. I am no longer associated with JCTA.
. Neither the sheriff nor jail personnel denied the story as printed. However, Sheriff Daniel did have a document created to expel the writer of the Owens story, John Taft, from visiting the jail inmates. This was apparently done to stop his reporting on conditions in the old Josephine County Jail.
The old jail was a dingy, dirty hole better called a dungeon. Taft believes this led to medieval behavior of both inmates and jail staff. Taft also believes county officials covered this mess up so it wouldn’t rub off on them.
JCTA made several recommendations at the end of the story to improve conditions in the jail. I leave the reader to arrive at his or her own conclusions.
The Original Owens Story
Grants Pass --The allegations in the following story are serious enough that JCTA recommends the County commissioners and county risk manager appoint an investigator to sort out the facts and determine what the truth is.
Owens describes his Alleged Beating
The following is Mr. Owens’ letter: On Thursday morning October 6th, on or about 1:00 AM, two deputies one male and one female came to my cell with some backup officers. I was taken to an isolation cell and told by the male deputy and female deputy to strip as they wanted to do a contraband search. I was told to spread my private parts while the female deputy watched. I was then told to bend over and spread cheeks. That’s when they jumped me and knocked me to the floor. I landed on my face and was dazed. The male deputy got his foot on the back of my neck and held me there. I didn’t resist. The female deputy then kneed my back in the ribs and kidney area several times while I was naked. Again, I offered no resistance and was in pain from this unwarranted attack by the female deputy.
Shackled Hand and Foot
Next they threw me my clothes and told me to get dressed. Then they took me to an isolation cell and placed me in ankle shackles, wrist shackles, and a belly shackle and left me in this position for seven or eight hours. I was refused water, I was not allowed to be released to go to the bathroom. I had to eventually urinate in my pants. That is an unpleasant experience. When the shackles were later taken off, the deputy jokingly remarked he almost broke his key opening the locks as my flesh under the shackles had swollen so much that it was difficult to turn the key.
I was accused of having contraband, which included a pillow, an extra towel, and two blankets. These items were taken from me and later returned as I had a doctor’s order for them. They beat me up, chained me down and did all this crap because of the things they just brought right back to me I’m allowed to have. They did find a broken paper clip under my mattress. I don’t know where it came from or how long it might have been there.
Sexual Harassment by Female Deputy?
The female deputy who kneed me is the deputy I recently filed a sexual harassment charge against. She said while making a jail count, "Nice ass, Owens; backup where I can see it." I refused and filed a complaint. The same male deputy that later held his foot on my neck said, "Owens, too much written stuff comes out of this cell." An official reply to my complaint took no action against the deputy.
Reason’s for the Beating
I believe my beating was a result of the sexual harassment charge and talking to John Taft. One decent deputy told me that what they did was out of line. He said everyone is edgy because of what’s being said about the jail. Signed, Michael Owens Comments from John Taft: The story Mr. Owens has told me is difficult to believe. Yet, I saw the handcuff marks on his wrists Saturday. So the hand cuffing appears to have taken place. The sexual harassment complaint appears to be factual, as I am aware of the administration’s response. There does appear to be a motive as both individuals have had previous antagonistic contact with Owens. Another prisoner did confirm the time Owens was removed from his cell. The jail’s nurse allegedly got Mr. Owens’ signature releasing the jail of any responsibility if anything were to happen to him. When I first talked to Owens his voice was depressed. He would have to be a very good actor to carry this off if he were deceiving me. Sheriff Daniel does refuse to allow me to see the inside of the jail. He has allowed other reporters into the jail. The sheriff refuses to answer my correspondence.
Fact or Fantasy
Owens does have a brain aneurysm and any abuse could be dangerous to his health. Newsline has warned the county of possible health risks to several men named in a report and the county’s possible liability. I do not doubt the validity of Owens’ statements as I have talked to many men both in and out of the jail system and find an unfortunate consistency in their statements. Mr. Owens, by being forthright with me, appears to have placed himself in great physical jeopardy. He told me he fears reprisals from jail staff for disclosing this information to me.
JCTA recommends the following points be carried out immediately.
1. No female guards shall be allowed in the JoCo jail to make contraband checks on nude male prisoners. No female deputies shall be in the jail around nude men, this includes the showers, toilets, or when the men are changing clothes.
2. An immediate investigation into the allegations of Mr. Owens must be conducted. The results are to be made public.
3. There shall be no sexual harassment of the men by female guards in the jail. There shall be no sexual banter by female guards directed at the men prisoners.
4. A liaison for the public and media to talk to other than Dave Daniel or Gordon Williams shall be provided.