Meet the Man Who Took Grant County Jail From Bad To Worse

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Grant County Detention Center

R.G. Dunlop / KyCIR

Grant County Detention Center

This is Part 3 of KyCIR’s “Trouble Behind Bars” series. Read Part 1, Part 2.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky.—As a candidate for Grant County jailer in 2010, Terry Peeples promised change. Once in office, he delivered it.

But what he delivered — a jail wracked by allegations of sexual perversion, intimidation and threats, involving an array of employees as victims and Peeples as the perpetrator — couldn’t have been what voters had in mind.

Peeples, who lost his reelection bid last November, has been sued by current or former jail employees about a dozen times in different courts. So far, the county’s insurance carrier has paid about $585,000 to settle five of the suits.

The suits allege, among other things, that Peeples aggressively lusted after an employee’s bare toes; that he had non-consensual sex with another employee and groped or harassed others; and that he ordered at least two deputies to lie under oath to investigators probing his improprieties. Peeples has denied wrongdoing.

And that’s just the questionable behavior Peeples has been accused of engaging in while he was jailer. As the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting looked into civil rights abuses at the jail, it found several misconduct claims centered on Peeples.

As a jail deputy in 2007, Peeples allegedly forced a woman who had just been released from custody to perform oral sex on him as he drove down the highway, according to a lawsuit in which the woman testified.

And in 1998, Peeples was accused, but not charged, of molesting three young girls in his native Oklahoma, according to Kentucky State Police records. They claimed that his abuse included blindfolding, binding and gagging them; that he invited others to participate in the sex acts; and that he videotaped some of the encounters and threatened death to anyone who dared tell what happened.

Terry Peeples

Grant County News

Terry Peeples

Peeples also pleaded guilty in Oklahoma in January 1993 to a charge of making obscene telephone calls, was fined $500 and received a one-year suspended jail sentence.

When contacted, Peeples referred inquiries to his lawyer. Covington attorney Jeffrey Mando said neither he nor Peeples would comment for this story, due to pending litigation. They have not responded to nine additional requests for comment.

Qualifications to be a Kentucky jailer are minimal: be at least 24 years of age, and have two years’ residence in the state and a year in the county of candidacy. And there was seemingly little attention paid to the man overseeing a jail that had been wracked by controversy for nearly a decade and supposedly was operating under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Peeples’ alleged misdeeds as jailer also involved administrative ineptitude. Less than a year into his term, a local grand jury issued a report concluding that supervision and training of jail employees were inadequate, and that flawed security had contributed to escapes by two inmates.

The grand jury recommended that Peeples “immediately” contact the Department of Corrections for assistance in developing better staff training. But the department told KyCIR that Peeples never requested help.

An audit last year, covering most of Peeples’ tenure, described record-keeping at the Grant County Detention Center as being in a “state of chaos.”

Grant County

Grant County

And a state Department of Corrections inspection in November found a “total lack of leadership” at the jail, and that “virtually no maintenance” had been performed there during the three previous years.

The inspector also noted that Peeples rarely had been a presence there recently — even though he was still drawing his $88,000-a-year salary.

“Mr. Peeples was there for personal gain. He wasn’t there really to serve in his office as jailer,” said Covington attorney Barbara Bonar, who has filed most of the lawsuits against Peeples. “He wasn’t there to run the jail. As a result, inmates suffered, employees suffered and I believe the county suffered.”

Peeples Pledged Reforms

During his campaign for jailer, Peeples touted himself as a conservative “Christian family man.” That, plus his corrections experience and the fact that he had married into a well-known Grant County family, may have resonated with voters. His wife, Michelle Willoby, is a local physician and her mother, Marylee Willoby, had been the Grant County coroner for nearly 25 years.

Peeples’ pledge to enact jail reforms also may have appealed to many in light of the considerable bad publicity that had beset the administration of the incumbent jailer, Steve Kellam.

Steve Kellam served as Grant County jailer from 2001 through 2010.

bourboncountydetention.com

Steve Kellam served as Grant County jailer from 2001 through 2010.

On Kellam’s watch, the Justice Department issued a scathing report in 2005 on jail conditions. Jail guards and inmates had been accused of assaulting other prisoners. A high-profile federal detainee had escaped, raising questions about security. Other jurisdictions had pulled their inmates out of the jail, costing Grant County needed revenue.

Peeples, 54, defeated Kellam in the Democratic primary, then won the general election in November 2010. But under his leadership, the jail quickly took another wrong turn.

Peeples’ alleged foot fetish surfaced publicly in a lawsuit filed by former jail secretary Lee Ballard in September 2012. Peeples would “graze” her buttocks and breasts with his hands and asked provocative questions about her attire and personal grooming, Ballard claims in her suit, which settled this week for $125,000.

In late May 2011, the suit contends, Peeples approached Ballard outside the jail, knelt down, took off one of her shoes, grabbed her foot in both hands and, “in a lecherous tone of voice,” said: “I’ve waited so long to suck on these.”

After Ballard pulled back her foot and rebuked Peeples, her suit alleged, he began retaliating against her, including falsely asserting that she had failed a drug test. She quit her job a month later.

ballard

(Read the recently-settled lawsuit)

Roscella Trumble, a former jail inmate, has testified in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by an ex-jail employee that when Peeples was a shift commander at the jail prior to his election, he would come to the door of her cell late at night and make sexually suggestive comments and gestures.

Among other things, Trumble said, Peeples would rub his penis until it was erect, and she made sexual gestures to him in return, including dancing for him in thong underwear.

Trumble also claimed in her sworn deposition last year that Peeples funneled money to her through her mother, and said, “you’re going to owe me.”

And soon after her release from jail in 2007, Trumble testified, Peeples forced her to perform oral sex on him in his car while he was driving down the freeway.

Trumble, who was on probation at the time of that incident, was asked during the deposition whether she ever thought she could refuse Peeples’ sexual overtures. No, she replied.

“Mr. Peeples uses his high-ladder power and his position at the jail to prey upon the weak and the vulnerable and definitely use it, you know, for his perverted acts and thoughts,” Trumble said in her deposition.

(Listen to R.G. Dunlop talk about this story on 89.3 WFPL News)

Last October, in their own lawsuit, Kathi Silvey and Sandy Zavodny, two employees working in the jail’s substance-abuse program, raised additional allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Peeples.

During a January 2013 party at Peeples’ home, Silvey claims he told her boyfriend in her presence: “Have you seen the tits and ass on that (Silvey)? I’d like to f— her!”

Peeples’ behavior at the party was so outrageous that he had to be physically restrained and many female jail employees walked out, another former deputy has alleged.

In April 2013, according to Silvey’s lawsuit, Peeples forced her to accompany him on a trip to New Albany, Indiana. Afraid of being alone with Peeples, Silvey said she convinced Zavodny to go too.

En route, Silvey asserted, Peeples stopped at a desolate, off-the-road motel and asked Zavodny whether she thought Silvey would have sex with him. He also allegedly suggested that the women stay in separate rooms; they refused.

Meanwhile, Peeples met up with a “young female teacher” from New Albany, who joined them for dinner, according to the suit.

In another pending suit, filed last year by former jail deputy Steve Skinner, Skinner alleges that Peeples had an intimate personal relationship with the teacher, and that she stayed with him at a state jailers’ convention at Grant County’s expense.

Skinner said Peeples spent time with the teacher instead of attending classes he later claimed to have taken, and that he told Skinner he did so because the teacher “was the best piece of ass I’ve ever had.” Contacted by KyCIR, the teacher refused to comment.

Skinner suit

(Read the lawsuit)

Skinner’s lawsuit, filed last October, also contends that he saw Peeples making “sexually charged comments and sexual solicitations” to at least 10 jail employees, including four who subsequently sued him.

After a state police investigation of Peeples was launched in 2012, according to Skinner’s suit, Peeples told him what to say if questioned, and later instructed him to lie in response to other employees’ claims of misconduct.

“If I go down, you know you go too,” Peeples allegedly told Skinner.

Lawsuits Allege Retaliation, Cover-Ups

Other male employees at the jail also have sued Peeples, among them Dennis Bailey, his former chief deputy. That suit, filed in October 2012 and settled recently for $249,758, alleged that Peeples and others at the jail were involved in “illegal conduct” there and that when Bailey complained about it, Peeples retaliated against him by fabricating a story that Bailey had inappropriate physical contact with an inmate.

As part of the settlement of Bailey’s case, Grant County Attorney Joe Taylor issued a letter last April stating that a Kentucky State Police inquiry had revealed “no criminal wrongdoing” by Bailey and that KSP was conducting an “ongoing” investigation of Peeples.

State police officials declined to discuss the investigation with KyCIR.

Empty cell

Thinkstock

Empty cell

In July 2014, three other current or former jail employees joined the legal scrum against Peeples. One of them, Jessica Jump, claimed in the lawsuit that prior to taking office, Peeples offered her a job and later told her that he was alone at home and wanted her to come by to give him an “early Christmas present.”

“At first I thought he was just a creepy old man that said nasty things,” Jump said in a sworn affidavit. “But when I started working at the jail and he began constantly pulling me away from the cameras to confront me about my sex life and his sex needs, I felt very trapped.”

On December 29, 2011, while Jump was waiting at home for her boyfriend, the suit alleges, Peeples asked her in a text message if he could drop by later “for sloppy seconds.” Moments later, according to the suit, Peeples showed up at Jump’s door, came inside and sexually assaulted her.

Records show Jump told a state police investigator in July 2012 that she had sex once with Peeples, but she said nothing to the investigator about an assault. Rather, she said, she participated “out of boredom.”

But Jump’s attorney, Barbara Bonar of Covington, told KyCIR that Peeples warned Jump prior to the state police interview not to tell the truth about their sexual encounter, and threatened to fire her if she did.

Yet another lawsuit was filed in September 2011 by former jail lieutenant Jacquelyn Bodenhamer, alleging “financial abuses” at the jail and favoritism by Peeples toward employees who had been his political supporters.

In a July 2011 letter to Attorney General Jack Conway, written shortly before she resigned, Bodenhamer also referred to “complaints of sexual harassment” of female staff members by Peeples, including “inappropriate comments or gestures.”

Shortly after her resignation, Bodenhamer was hired by the state Department of Corrections as a jail inspector. Her lawsuit was settled in 2013 for $121,477.

Accusations Elsewhere

Peeples’ alleged abuse of the three girls was investigated in 1998 by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, according to Don Bohon, chief of police in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Bohon, who reviewed records of the case at KyCIR’s request, said they showed that the “reporting party” would not cooperate with police and that prosecutors declined to pursue the case without law-enforcement involvement.

The Oklahoma case came to the attention of Kentucky authorities in 2013, after an anonymous complainant expressed concern to state officials that, in light of Peeples’ past, one or more children currently living with him might be in jeopardy.

However, when a Kentucky state trooper and a social worker attempted in August 2013 to interview Peeples’ and Willoby’s biological son, they were turned away by Willoby’s mother, state police records show.

It is unclear what if any subsequent efforts were made by police or the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to pursue the matter. Neither agency would discuss the matter. Peeples and his attorney, Mando, also were asked specifically about the Oklahoma-related allegations. Neither responded to several requests for comment.

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

  • Jim Hopkins

    Wow, and wow, and wow!

  • Miranda Sheehan

    THANK YOU, Mr. Dunlop! THANK YOU for (FINALLY) investigating this “man”… He deserved to be exposed for what he REALLY IS. Your EXCELLENT investigative reporting leaves NO QUESTION as to what this ” person” really is… A MONSTER, A PREDATOR, AND A DANGEROUS SOCIOPATH.

    Thank you for publishing all the gory details of his disgusting & COMPLETELY DERANGED behavior. I know there are more victims out there… I can only hope that they read this article. Maybe it will help them realize that they aren’t alone – and maybe they’ll somehow find the courage to come forward & report whatever atrocities this pig committed against them.

    I pray to God that this article can SOMEHOW save the children who are CURRENTLY IN HIS CUSTODY – and any child who is unfortunate enough to cross paths with this scumbag in the future. Thanks again for exposing him for what he really is.

    • Michelle

      The police were turned away from his home! Funny if that had been any normal citizen them cops would have harassed the life out of them. Corruption all around!

  • Dale

    While it appears there is something going on with this man, let’s not just assume what others are saying is the truth. People often times lie, and many of the people involved in this story are known liars. Take the lady who accuses him of raping her. She at first says she had consensual sex with him because she was bored, now she says he raped her and said he would fire her if she told. This lady, Jessica Jump, is a proven liar, so it makes it hard to believe anything she says.

    Now, I’m not taking up for the man. I too believe he is scum and abused his power. But let’s not make him guilty just based on the words of a few known, proven liars.

  • Karen

    Mr. Dunlop,

    I have been follow your reports of the misconduct of Grant County Detention Center and Officials. I know of a few people in the jail currently and the reports you write about are true. I have been conducting my own research on this Detention Center and I have been getting letters from “Behind the Bars” of what is really going on there at that center. I have also been hung up on and talked to like a dog by the officers who work at this facility. I am a professional, with a Bachelor Degree, who holds a professional license in the state of Kentucky, and I have an obligation to report this “horrible conduct displayed by Grant County Detention Center and the horrible conditions in which these inmates are exposed to on a daily basis”. There is mold growing in the kitchen, holes in the trays they serve the food on, the dishwasher soap container hasn’t worked for over a year, the trays are only sprayed off, bugs are in the food which is served, “Green cheese” being served, there is no cold water in the cells to drink, there is terrible odors and mold in the shower stall drains. Inmates are congested and have Rhinitis (Runny Noses).

    The correction officers are unprofessional to inmates, family members, and their own co-workers. This facility is “Out of Control” and needs to be closed till the repairs and proper training of officers can be done. I am in the process of speaking out for these inmates to higher officials. I personally feel “The Good Ole Guys Club” needs to go”! These individuals need to be prosecuted and removed from ever holding a position at any other correction center due to their lack of professionalism, inattention to their administrative duties, and responsibilities in which they swore to uphold.

    This facility has not been meeting the standards of care outlined in the Department of Corrections (DOC) policies and procedures (KRS 441.055) for a long while (years) and it is time it STOPPED! How can it be that a government facility gets by with not complying with the rules and regulations for so long? It’s time this facility be brought to justice! It’s time this “Good Ole’ Boy Jail” be held accountable for their wrong doings! I will not stop till I see “Justice served”! Inmates are still human beings! How many lawsuits and deaths have to surface before someone stops this corruption! These officers should have to spend time in the very cells they ignored for years and eat the bug infested food with green cheese. Many, if not all, of the officers and officials should be jailed, behind the fence, to see how to properly conduct themselves. I mentioned “ALL” of these officials should be placed under arrest because they “ALL” have known what is going on and they failed to report these horrible incidents and conditions. They choose not to because maybe they are scared but even so they have a duty to the community in which they serve and they have to pick their poison. Either come clean now or be jailed for not reporting the violations they knew.

    I am beside myself that “Terry Peeble’s has gotten by with so much misconduct”! Again, “The Good Ole Guys Club” wins …. over getting that man being placed behind bars for a long time! Too many cases brought before the courts on this man not to convict him for more than what he has gotten! Plus, how in the heck was his background not checked before holding any government job! Talk about “Who you know possibly in the Good Ole Guys/Girls Club”! It’s time to check further into the backgrounds of these individuals before hiring them to serve in these positions!

    I am not giving up and I urge others to not give up on getting justice for the wrong that “Grant County has been demonstrating for years”! You have to have proof! I have the proof and will get more proof! DOC has proof! I will swore under oath that everything I say is the truth! I will take a polygraph to show that my word is the truth. So Grant County it’s time to dot your I’s and cross your T’s because justice will be served legally for the job you didn’t do and how you didn’t report or do anything to clean up the jail and improve on the conditions within your Grant County Detention Center!

    Tax payers of grant County are being short changed because of these corrupt officials in which they hired to do the job! I do not live in Grant County but I am a citizen of Kentucky and a human being that has a heart for helping serve individuals within my state! I am disgusted at the lack of humane conditions and treatment that are being shown to these inmates! Yes, these are inmates and they have committed crimes but they should at least have a right to a clean facility with proper food being served, cold/clean water to drink, and to live without “Mold” to breath and ingest into their bodies! They are still human beings! I know it is not “The Ritz Hotel” and I am not asking for 800 count sheets to be given to these inmates. I am asking for humane conditions to be given and shown to each of these individuals.
    You never know which relative of yours may end up in a facility because they “Crack or do something wrong”. Do you want them to live with mold, eat food that have bugs in it or mold on it or die in these facilities due to poorly supervised cells? Do you want them to be treated inhumanely? Stand up and fight for “Humane Treatment” for these inmates! Remember you or a loved one could be next one that has to endure these conditions….things happen to good people! People can lie on you and…”BOOM”…. you find yourself in jail to prove your innocence! So do not ignore my message and think “Well I do no wrong so I will not end up there”….Do not fool yourself! Good people and honest people have found themselves in these places by chance and circumstances that they had little control! Please listen to my words and help me fight for human dignity for all. The more we bring these conditions to the front line the more they will have to face the issues at hand. Remember “Lives matter” no matter what color, race, or culture you represent, your life matters! Thank you for reading this post and I hope you do not forget my words. I hope you help my campaign of ” Lives matter, Humane Treatment and Justice for All”.

  • TR

    Just to say I was there about 6 years ago serving originally 5 days for disorderly conduct, then stupidity did contraband that I took in , an did 6 months, my stupidity. Of all that . but all that I know about williamstown, grant county , jail, etc. Is gospel. I lived there 11 years does not take much, or long to know what happens there. Thank You for this investigation.

  • Tracy

    I worked there as well and was very scared of him and because I seen things go very wrong and I told him about it he said if I told he would take me down and he even let inmates walk around and do and say whatever they liked I wish I could of done what ever one else has but I was scared for my kids and me then I was fired because I told them I would go to a higher power

  • Katasha Jervis

    I was an Inmate for two years at Grant county detention center, now on my feet and getting ready to celebrate 5 years of sobriety, custody of my children and doing very well!!! When I seen this article I have to stick up for what’s right, I have never experienced any of them behaviours out of Terri peeples. I was rewarded when having good behavior or held accountable when doing wrong. A lot of woman used Mr peeples and threw themselves on him but I have NEVER seen him act inappropriate. His wife was always there. So people need to really watch what they say because gossiping really harms, Grant county has always been behind and very cruel and un educated, courts, social workers and even the jail, the cops ride around with dip in there mouth and sitting at shell stations shoving donuts down there throat while people are blowing up meth labs, there’s no treatment centers, or any kind of help, so they need to shut down the whole county truth be told, that man tried his best to keep every body happy including his RIGHT HAND MAN Mr Skinner. Im so discusted i wanna puke over this whole fake and phony bull ****!!!!