CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - According to the Chatham County Sheriff's Office, a Corrections Officer Trainee has been terminated after providing contraband to inmates and leaving inmates alone, allowing one to escape while on work detail.
COT Joseph Cooper was on duty overseeing a work detail at the Video Visitation Center on Jan. 20th, when inmate James Buchans escaped.
COT Cooper was interviewed several times during the Internal Affairs investigation, leading to the discovery that he had previously brought contraband inside the detention facility to Buchans and other inmates, according to the Chatham County Sheriff's Office. They say no weapons were smuggled in; that it was most likely things like cigarettes. Also during the investigation, COT Cooper was found to be untruthful in his statements to Internal Affairs.
In the security video at the Video Visitation Center, COT Cooper is shown leaving the inmates alone when the escape happened on Jan. 20th and showed no "sense of urgency" once the inmate went missing. Officials say they very much believe it was a "planned" escape by both the inmate and the officer. They aren't releasing that video just yet, but they say it shows Buchans and Cooper peeping out of the door, looking for the getaway vehicle, before the inmate walked out, got in the vehicle, and drove off.
After seeing the video, authorities questioned Officer Cooper about what happened. They say he told them he was in the bathroom at the time. They asked him to take a polygraph test on Tuesday, to which he declined.
"Yesterday, Cooper was scheduled for a polygraph to verify statements. He refused to take the test. That is a violation of our policy, and he was at that point, terminated," said Interim Sheriff, Roy Harris. "Video of the incident as well as Cooper's statements and statements from that inmate and other inmates who were present, led us to believe that Officer Cooper was not being truthful or forthcoming in the investigation. The way this occurred, it didn't make sense, and then it was kind of like, 'Oh, well, my head count is not right.' Well, you've got three inmates. You don't have to count very high at that particular point to realize someone is missing."
Now, officials are taking extra steps to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.
"We will apply additional training to people in this area, and we will ensure we have redundancy on any personnel that go outside the actual security barriers here," Harris said.
As for the escaped inmate, he is back behind bars. They were able to catch him again right away. He was also indicted Wednesday on charges unrelated to this incident.