ROCKINGHAM — A fired Richmond County jailer is accused of taking part in a sex act with a female detainee, Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. said Thursday, and state officials are investigating the claim.
The woman said in a complaint to the sheriff’s department that 46-year-old detention officer William Arthur “Ottie” Cline III had at least one sexual encounter with her at the Richmond County Jail while she was housed there for pretrial confinement, Clemmons said. The State Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the complaint.
“Allegations are what they are,” Clemmons said. “It doesn’t make it a matter of fact. This man has not been convicted or condemned of anything.”
Clemmons said he fired Cline on April 28 for violations of sheriff’s department policy. SBI agents, not Richmond County deputies, will determine whether any laws were broken, he explained.
“With the complaint itself, it’s kind of hard to determine the validity of the complaint as far as its truthfulness,” he said. “…But there were things in that complaint that were disturbing to me and based on that, it was an immediate release of duty.”
Clemmons said he couldn’t disclose the specific policy violations until the SBI completes its investigation. The conduct that led to Cline’s dismissal did not compromise jail security, Clemmons said.
“At that particular point, the answer is no, but was the potential there — a great potential?” he said. “Yes, there was. Any breach in security is a potential catastrophe.”
It wasn’t clear whether Cline had been accused of sexually assaulting the inmate or whether the alleged encounter was consensual. The sheriff referred questions about the allegations in the complaint to the SBI.
Clemmons did not identify the detainee who filed the complaint. He referred to her as “an individual in custody” rather than an inmate because she was being confined to ensure her appearance in court and had not been convicted of a crime.
The sheriff said Cline also should enjoy the presumption of innocence. He had not been charged with any crimes as of Thursday afternoon.
“Any complaint we receive, we take these complaints seriously,” Clemmons said.
Male and female detainees are housed in different cellblocks in the Richmond County Jail. Clemmons said the SBI will determine whether Cline had inappropriate contact with the woman and whether jail protocol was breached.
“I think we as sheriffs have a duty to the public trust to let them know that even when we make mistakes, we go to the proper authorities to investigate us,” he said.
N.C. Department of Justice spokeswoman Jennifer Canada said Thursday afternoon that the SBI review “is just getting started.”
When state agents complete their investigation, they will prepare a report for District Attorney Reece Saunders, who will determine whether to file criminal charges.
Cline started work at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department on Aug. 13, 2012, and earned an annual salary of $25,697, Chief Deputy Mark Gulledge said.
Clemmons received the complaint on April 27 and terminated Cline’s employment the next day. Gulledge said there was no dismissal letter in Cline’s personnel file.
Before becoming a Richmond County deputy in 1989, Clemmons worked for the N.C. Department of Corrections, which is now the state Department of Public Safety’s Division of Adult Correction. Clemmons said to his knowledge, there had been no previous complaints of sexual misconduct at the Richmond County Jail.
The sheriff said his office could only release more details about the incident after the SBI’s review is complete.
“We want transparency with the sheriff’s office, and we want this community to know we stand on honor, integrity, trust and pride,” he said.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13.