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Porno Probe Still Unresolved

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WHILE THE STATE Board of Corrections review is being conducted, a separate internal probe involving nearly half the male correctional officers remains unresolved. On April 15, the Independent reported that at least 29 correctional officers--and maybe as many as 50--are under investigation for downloading Internet pornography while on duty.

One guard, dismissed during his probationary period, reportedly in connection with the porn probe, was on duty the night Harris committed suicide. Sheriff's Department officials declined to state whether he was using the Internet that night.

The lingering eight-month investigation involves guards at both the Main Adult Detention Facility (the county jail) and the North County Detention Facility (the honor farm), both in Santa Rosa. The internal affairs division has been investigating the male staffers for allegedly spending up to several hours a night downloading pornographic images into personal files on the department's new computer system and using county phone lines to participate in sexually explicit Internet chat lines.

According to knowledgeable sources who asked for anonymity out of fear of retaliation, the investigation has targeted members of the county jail's elite Special Emergency Response Team and facility training officers, as well as rank-and-file guards.

McDermott has insisted that the probe involves seven correctional officers. Two months ago, he reported that the department's internal affairs division was "putting the finishing touches" on the investigation. But no public report has been issued. "The investigation is for all intents and purposes complete," McDermott said this week. "I hope to wrap it up soon."

He has promised that the department will discipline guards "if ... warranted."

Critics charge that the Sheriff's Department is downplaying the magnitude of the scandal to cover up the extent of the activity, especially in light of the department's poor record in sexual harassment cases involving female deputies and jail staff members.

The Independent has learned that as of two weeks ago the state Board of Corrections officials reviewing operations at the jail are not looking into reports that a large segment of the male correctional officers may have downloaded pornography during the night shift and allegedly shirked their duties.

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From the July 2-8, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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