Silver Summit • Before a Utah judge sentenced former Daggett County jailer Joshua Cox to serve four months behind bars for abusing inmates, the ex-deputy asked for leniency and said he became a “catchall” for a sheriff’s office riddled with problems.
“That jail and that department was poison,” Cox said Monday. “And I let it get to me.”
The 27-year-old man told 3rd District Judge Kent Holmberg on Monday that he’s not denying he was wrong in what he did — which included stunning inmates with Tasers in exchange for soda, and taking police dogs into the jail for training, which ended in two people being bitten.
But Cox said he’s already paid a hefty price: He gave up his police certification for life. And he now lives 200 miles from his family, the only place he could find work.
He has become a “pariah,” Cox’s attorney Loni DeLand told the judge, someone whom many in the small Daggett County community of Manila have blamed for the closure of the jail after a state investigation led to charges against Cox and others in the sheriff’s office.
“This whole situation has ruined — “ Cox began, before becoming emotional and taking a long pause. “I’ve had to leave the community I live in to find employment because it’s almost impossible out there.”
But the judge said he doesn’t see Cox as a victim; he was in a position of power when the inmate abuses occurred. Holmberg sentenced Cox to spend 120 days in jail, saying Cox had until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to report to the Uintah County jail.
Cox pleaded guilty in September 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.
None of the abused inmates was in court for Monday’s sentencing. But Drew Housley, another former jailer who worked alongside Cox, spoke on Cox’s behalf and also asked the judge to be lenient on his former co-worker.
Housley said officers weren’t properly trained in Daggett County, and stun guns and other tools were treated as toys.
They were taught by their supervisors that “if it isn‘t on camera, it didn’t happen,” Housley said.
DeLand — who had asked the judge to order home confinement for his client — echoed similar sentiments, saying nearly anything was tolerated in the jail as long as it could be dismissed as “horseplay.”
“I would submit that these acts could not have happened in any other jail in the state of Utah,” DeLand said.
Prosecutors with the Utah attorney general’s office had asked the judge for jail time, saying Cox caused pain to the victims and financial damage to a county that relied on income generated from a contract with the Utah State Prison to house some of its inmates.
Cox was one of several Daggett County sheriff’s employees charged after allegations of inmate abuse came to light earlier this year.
Former Sheriff Jerry Jorgensen pleaded guilty in September to 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.
Benjamin Lail, former jail commander, pleaded guilty to class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment for firing a stun gun at the feet of a woman working in the jail control room. He was sentenced to a year of probation and ordered to pay a $750 fine.
Two other deputies, Rodrigio Toledo and Logan Walker, also were charged with official misconduct. Toledo pleaded guilty to the charge in September — a plea which was held in abeyance and will be dismissed if he pays a court fee and does not commit new crimes. Walker’s case is still pending.
During Cox’s change-of-plea hearing in September, 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 there in Daggett County,” DeLand told reporters after that hearing.
In their first public interviews since Utah state investigators abruptly closed the 80-bed Daggett County jail in February, several former inmates detailed what they described as painful “initiation” rituals in which a guard at the jail — sometimes with other officers as witnesses — repeatedly stunned them with a Taser weapon and subjected them to terrifying K-9 police dog “training” exercises.
The inmates said that if they balked at his demands, Cox ridiculed them and threatened to “fire” them from their coveted outside-prison work. On some occasions, when they were working away from the jail cameras, inmates said Cox menaced them with his service handgun.
“I’ve never been bored enough in my entire 37 years of life to want or willingly be abused by anyone and I sure don’t see it as fun and games,” said former inmate Dustin Porter.
John Mejia, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah who represents Porter and several other inmates, attended Monday’s sentencing hearing for Cox, but declined to comment afterward.
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.”
The case caused state prison officials to pull its inmates from the Daggett County jail, where it had for years paid to house the prisoners.
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.
— Rone Tempest and Eric S. Peterson, with The Utah Investigative Journalism Project, contributed to this story.