Jury finds jail officer not guilty

Wanda English Burnett

A jail officer at the Ripley County Jail found herself on the other side of the bars after she was charged with Trafficking With An Inmate, a Class A Misdemeanor. Jury trial for Crystal G. Miller, 31, of Osgood, was held in Ripley County Superior Court September 30 and October 1.

It didn’t take jurors long to decide that Miller was not guilty of the crime she was charged with.

In the Affidavit of Probable Cause filed in March of 2010, it stated that Miller was employed with the Ripley County Jail as a Jail Officer. Documents stated that Miller had passed tobacco products to inmates on more than one occasion.

These allegations came from inmates and were supported by video evidence according to information forwarded to the prosecutor’s office by David Pippin, chief deputy for the sheriff’s office.

During the trial inmates testified that Miller had brought them tobacco, some testified that while they didn’t receive any, they knew about it and saw the tobacco.

Jurors listened to testimony from not only inmates, but another jail employee, Karen Demaree. She said there were a lot tobacco products within the jail.

Witness for the State was Chief Deputy David Pippin. He testified that he hated to fire Miller, but had fired his own son for a similar incident.

Jurors are now allowed to ask questions of the witnesses, a relatively new concept in Ripley County courts. One question from a juror for Pippin was why charges had been brought against the defendant and not others. Pippin noted that in Miller’s case, it was an “on-going” occurrence, not a one-time thing as was the case he mentioned about his son who allegedly gave an inmate a cigarette.

Pippin’s son was fired from the jail, but charges were never forwarded to the prosecutor’s office, according to Chief Deputy Prosecutor Ryan King, who was trying this particular case. He said he had no prior knowledge of the incident, which “definitely caused a problem for the case,” he told The Versailles Republican.

Jurors had another question for Pippin. They asked what percentage of the time the “full pat-down” procedure was followed when inmates return from the work release program. “I would like to say 100%, but it’s not,” Pippin replied. He said about 75% of the time the thorough searches occur. (The work release program allows inmates to go to their job each shift, then return to the jail to serve their sentence).

Another question was, “Do the inmates know who is working?” Pippin said the inmates know who is working. They know the rotation of shifts and details right down to what days milk is delivered on.

Prosecutor King felt that the testimony of Pippin wasn’t helpful for his case. “I knew the State was in trouble when he (Pippin) said the searches didn’t take place all the time.” He said he also knew going into the case that his other witnesses were inmates, with some people not likely to believe their stories.

In closing arguments, Matthew Zerbe, attorney for the defendant, said “welcome to Crystal Miller’s nightmare.” He told that Miller had lost her job, had the humiliation of her name printed in the newspaper, and the financial loss of having to hire an attorney. He said, “All that’s standing between her (and her freedom) is you and me.” He said he believed that Pippin had a “rush to judgment” when firing her and presenting charges to the prosecutor’s office.

The prosecution said Miller had violated the trust she had been given as a jail officer being “caught” time and time again. King said a video tape proves she was handing something to an inmate with inmates telling exactly what it was, tobacco. A search of the cell block revealed tobacco had gotten into the inmates after Miller was on duty, but jurors needed to know exactly how. After all, Demaree had testified there was more than one can of tobacco in the jail.

Both the defendant and her husband took the stand in her defense. “I think they were just real believable,” noted Zerbe, who added, “Crystal is a good mom and wife.”

Zerbe asked for Miller to be found not guilty. Jurors agreed. The attorney told The Versailles Republican he was pleased with the attentiveness of the jury. He referred to his question of potential jurors in voir dire (selection of the jury) “Will you give my client a fair trial?” Zerbe concluded, “That’s all I really asked for.” He felt the jurors took notes, asked great questions and in the end truly respected his question.

Both prosecution and defense said their opponent did an excellent job. As to the question whether Miller will now file a civil suit, Zerbe said he couldn’t speak for her.
Miller could not be reached for comment.