An inmate at the Silverdale correctional facility has been charged with assault and sexual battery after he allegedly threatened and groped his cellmate.
The victim told staff he was assaulted by Leonard Watts, 46, who confronted him around 7 p.m. on Oct. 12, according to court documents. Watts told the victim he had been told to beat him down, but the victim said he didn't want to fight. Watts then said there was a second option — the victim could have sex with him — but the victim said he didn't want to do that either, according to court documents.
The man said Watts then pushed him against a wall and reached his hand into his underpants, groping the victim's buttocks. The victim began to yell, causing Watts to stop, but Watts said if he reported it he would hurt the man and sexually assault him again.
Watts has an extensive record of charges in Hamilton County including theft, burglary and assault, according to online records. He is next scheduled to appear before General Sessions Judge Gary Starnes on Jan. 22.
The incident comes several months after another inmate was charged with sexual battery after he allegedly assaulted his cellmate at the time. The victim in that case said Titus Heard, 28, started making sexual advances toward him after he was placed in his cell on June 12. He said Heard told him he looked like the rapper Nicki Minaj.
The victim said Heard also grabbed his buttocks underneath his underwear, and when he tried to get the attention of correctional officers by yelling from the cell door, Heard punched and began strangling him. The victim said he may have passed out at some point during the fight.
The Hamilton County Commission voted to transfer control of the Silverdale correctional facility to the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office in September as a first step in a long-term effort to make it the county's primary jail and phase out the downtown facility. Matt Lea, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said the agency will continue to take seriously the safety of its inmates.
"The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, as well as Core Civic, take all allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously. Both the HCSO and Core Civic adhere to the strict guidelines firmly established by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) passed in 2003," Lea said in an emailed statement.
"The purpose of this act is to provide for the investigation of any and all allegations of rape/sexual misconduct in federal, state and local penal institutions and for the collection of resources, data, and research to be used in order to combat sexual misconduct and rape among inmates and prisoners. All inmates in the Hamilton County awaiting adjudication are presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Jonathan Burns, a spokesman for CoreCivic, echoed Lea's thoughts on inmate safety.
"CoreCivic is committed to the safety and well being of every inmate in our care, and we have a zero-tolerance policy against all forms of sexual abuse and misconduct. We have in place an aggressive effort to prevent, detect and respond to all allegations of this nature," he said.
"Anyone can report an allegation or suspected incident of sexual abuse or sexual harassment; including inmates, staff and third parties. At CoreCivic facilities, there are multiple options to file a report and all allegations will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigation and potential prosecution."
He also said that while he could not provide further information on the incident involving Watts because of an ongoing investigation, he said CoreCivic is cooperating fully with the sheriff's office.
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6731. Follow him on Twitter @emmettgienapp.