Silver Summit • The former Daggett County sheriff and two of his officers pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges accusing them of mistreating inmates at the county jail, abuse that included the use of a stun gun.
The pleas came a day before a preliminary hearing — where testimony and evidence of the alleged crimes was to be presented — was scheduled to begin in 3rd District Court.
Former Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen, 64, pleaded guilty to class B misdemeanor official misconduct. The plea was held in abeyance, meaning the charge will be dismissed in six months if he pays a $500 court fee and does not commit new crimes.
Jorgensen’s former jail commander, 32-year-old Benjamin Lail, pleaded guilty to class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment, a reduced charge from the felony aggravated assault count he initially faced.
Lail admitted in court Wednesday that he fired a stun gun at the feet of a woman working in the jail control room. Lail was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay a $750 fine.
Judge Kent Holmberg also ordered Lail to write a letter of apology to the victim.
Former Deputy Joshua Cox faced the heftiest charges, accused of telling inmates he would give them soda if they could withstand being stunned with a Taser for five seconds. He also was accused of taking police dogs into the jail for training, where two people were bitten.
Cox resolved his case by pleading guilty to two counts of third-degree felony aggravated assault, one third-degree felony count of bringing a weapon into the jail and a count of misdemeanor theft.
He admitted to stealing the stun gun he used on inmates from his old job as a Smithfield police officer and bringing it into the jail.
Steven Wuthrich, a prosecutor with the attorney general’s office, told the judge on Wednesday he will ask that Cox serve jail time — not prison — when he is sentenced on Nov. 6.
Wuthrich said all three defendants have given up their police certifications, noting that Cox, 27, has relinquished his policing license “for life.”
Following the hearings, Cox’s defense attorney, Loni DeLand, downplayed the severity of his client’s actions, saying it was “fun and games” between inmates and guards who had grown too close.
“It gets boring out in Daggett County,” DeLand added.
While Cox’s actions were “unprofessional,” his attorney said no one was ever at risk for serious injury. But he took the plea deal, DeLand said, because seven other charges were dropped in exchange for his pleas.
“He shouldn’t have done it,” DeLand told news reporters. “But I don’t think it’s that egregious.”
When charges were filed in May, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes called the deputy’s actions “unbelievably inhumane conduct.” He said in a statement that the actions of all of those charged were “inexcusable.”
Two other deputies, Rodrigio Toledo and Logan Walker were also charged as part of the case that caused the state to pull its inmates from the Daggett County jail, where it had for years paid to house the prisoners.
Toledo, 42, and Walker, 27, both are charged with misdemeanor counts of official misconduct in Summit County’s justice court. They are expected in court for a pretrial conference next week.
The state’s inmates were removed in February after the Department of Corrections opened an investigation into the jail officers’ conduct — a move that stripped Daggett County of an anticipated $1.42 million through the end of the year.
Correction: Sept 6, 11:38 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the fine amount the judge ordered Benjamin Lail to pay.