Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel has launched a website to oppose accusations of wrongdoing against him and corrections officers at the county jail.
The sheriff’s office created the website, clarkfacts.com, in response to two federal civil lawsuits that say more than two dozen women were “assaulted, harassed, threatened and intimidated” by men who were also incarcerated at the jail on Oct. 24. The men accessed the female area of the jail with a key they bought from a corrections officer and raped at least two of those women during a “night of terror,” according to the lawsuits.
The lawsuits name Sheriff Noel as a defendant, alongside unknown jail officers and David Lowe, the officer accused of selling the keys for $1,000.
Noel said he started the website to “shoot down the lies and deliver transparency to the community.”
“Three types of liars have been caught red-handed: lying lawyers, lying political operatives and lying criminals,” Noel said in a statement on the website. “This fact-check site will detail the lies, misrepresentations, distortions and myths about what happened at the Clark County Jail on Oct. 24, 2022.”
Noel, whose attorney previously told WFPL News that the sheriff’s office “disputes the vast majority, if not all of the statements” made in the lawsuits, posted surveillance footage and specified some of the claims he’s disputing on the website for the first time Tuesday.
He said though prosecutors and investigators may still be reviewing some of the footage and information, the sheriff’s office is posting as much as possible “so the public can see with their own eyes.”
Noel posted three photos and two videos, which show a combined 60 seconds of surveillance footage, to the website at around noon Tuesday . He contests four claims in the post, mostly related to the timing of the incident.
The website has a section that lists “lies” next to “the truth” for each of the four claims. Two of them are nearly identical and dispute how long men were in the female pods. The lawsuits said “over the course of multiple hours” and “for several hours,” but Noel said the incident lasted “36-40 minutes” and “less than 40 minutes.”
Noel also said the men entered the female pod at 2:11 a.m., instead of 11:30 p.m. as claimed in the lawsuit.
“Let me be clear — one second of an illegal incident is wrong and too much. But lying and exaggerating about this incident is wrong, as well,” Noel said.
In response to the description “night of terror,” the website reads “see video.” Noel said the footage doesn’t depict anyone in “obvious distress.”
The first clip is 49 seconds long and shows men and women sitting and walking around a communal area of the women’s pod. The second clip, which is 11 seconds long, shows men running from the female pods at 2:45 a.m., one minute before Noel said a woman contacted an officer.
“While there are call buttons in each of the pods that would have allowed the female inmates to call for help, no one called for help,” Noel said on the website. “In fact, the call button was used only one time that evening — by one of the female inmates at 2:46 a.m. The audio recording of that call consists solely of a polite request for some personal hygiene products.”
Noel said a corrections officer delivered those products at 2:54 a.m. and did not see any men in the female pod, nor did any of the women “say anything to this corrections officer about male inmates, sexual assault, or anything similar.” Noel said the officer who sold the key “distracted the other guard and prevented him from seeing the security cameras” during the incident.
Attorney Steve Wagner, who is representing eight unnamed plaintiffs in one of the lawsuits, told WFPL News that the women didn’t immediately report the incident directly to jail staff, and instead went through a lawyer. He said the women took that route out of fear of retaliation and called the sheriff’s attempt to discredit their claims because of that “absurd.”
Wagner responded to the new website post on Tuesday by repeating allegations that men in the jail used keys from former officer Lowe to access the women’s pods with “their heads wrapped in towels or blankets to hide their identities.”
“The Sheriff has now admitted all of these facts in an ill-advised attempt at ‘myth busting,’” Wagner said in a statement to WFPL News. “He also admitted that another Jail officer besides Lowe had access to the surveillance video feed but was apparently not watching because he was ‘distracted.’ Finally, the Sheriff admitted that he has ‘…made several changes to prevent this from happening again.’”
The brief video clips Noel posted only show the communal area of the jail pod, not the bunks and bathrooms where Wagner says the assaults took place. Wagner also said the duration of the incident doesn’t change the fact that women were attacked.
“None of my clients were timing the events of that horrible evening last October,” Wagner said. “If you ask them how long they were subjected to the sexual abuse, threats and harassment by the male inmates, they will say it seemed like hours. When we have a chance to uncover all of the evidence in this case, we will find out if it was ‘36-40 minutes’ as the Sheriff claims, or a shorter or longer period of time. Regardless, it was indeed a night of terror for the women who were subjected to this abuse at the Clark County Jail.”
Lowe was arrested two days after the incident and has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges and a misdemeanor. His criminal trial is scheduled for fall.
Attorneys expect the two federal civil lawsuits, which say Sheriff Noel and corrections officers violated the women’s civil rights by failing to protect them, to combine during the litigation process.
Noel said he will regularly update the website with new information, including more possible footage and images.
“We have many, many more myths that we will bust on this fact-check website,” he said. “The lying lawyers, lying political operatives, and lying criminals might want to hire legal counsel because lots of legal trouble comes along with being held accountable by the facts.”
Wagner welcomed that approach saying, “We hope the Sheriff continues to ‘myth-bust’ in the coming days.”
John Boyle is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. John’s coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, Community Foundation of Southern Indiana and Samtec, Inc.