Hamilton County Jail guard accused of abusing authority

photo The Hamilton County Jail
photo Steven Ward

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A guard at the Hamilton County Jail has been accused of misusing his authority by promising to interfere with a female inmate's jail records, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Steven Ward, 45, has worked in the Hamilton County Jail for eight years, and on Thursday, he was arrested and booked into that same jail. He is charged with official misconduct and was released on a $3,000 bond.

Investigators from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and TBI say Ward told the inmate he would interfere with the judicial process in her case.

Sheriff Jim Hammond declined to comment on the nature of the alleged promise between the inmate and Ward because the investigation is ongoing.

But Hammond said the problem was caught quickly and that there is no reason to believe Ward knew the woman outside of his contact with her in the jail.

"This is something we're constantly on guard for because we know we have a responsibility to follow policy and procedure," he said. "This [alleged misconduct] was not a long-term thing."

TBI agents and investigators from the sheriff's office began investigating Ward on Oct. 2 at the request of District Attorney Neal Pinkston, according to a news release from TBI. Ward was indicted on Wednesday.

Ward could not be reached for comment Thursday. He was hired at the jail in April 2006 and was promoted to the rank of corporal in 2012, said Janice Atkinson, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office.

During that eight-year span, Ward did not have any disciplinary actions on his record, Atkinson added.

Ward has been suspended without pay from the sheriff's office and will return to work only if he is exonerated, Hammond said. He said the department has rules designed to keep jailers from abusing their authority, but that it's not always possible to stop misconduct all together.

"When things like this happen it points out that we have to check the balances to make sure we catch it when it happens," he said. "You can train people to do the right things, but you also have to weed out those who just won't be suitable."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.