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Press Release

Clay County Jail Administrator Pleads Guilty To Violating Inmates' Civil Rights

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM -- The former jail administrator of the Clay County Detention Center pleaded guilty Wednesday to violating the civil rights of inmates by using his authority to sexually abuse or otherwise deprive the inmates of their constitutional rights, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr.

JEFFREY SCOTT COTNEY, 48, of Ashland, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler to four counts of deprivation of rights under color of law between May 2009 and spring 2010 while he worked as Clay County's jail administrator. As part of that job, Cotney ran the inmate worker program, recommending which inmates could participate in the program and supervising the inmate workers.

A federal grand jury indicted Cotney in November. His sentencing is scheduled May 27.

As part of Cotney's plea agreement with the government, he must register as a sex offender, surrender all current law enforcement licenses and certifications and neither seek nor hold a law enforcement job or one where he would have custodial authority over others, including as a correctional or probation officer or bail bondsman.

Cotney pleaded guilty to four counts involving three inmates, but the conduct he admitted to in his plea agreement also includes a fourth inmate.

In his plea, Cotney admitted to coercing one inmate to submit to a sexual act on four occasions in 2009, three times at Cotney's home and once on the side of the road during a trip to Oxford to get automobile parts.

Cotney admitted to violating the civil rights of a second inmate in 2009, forcing that inmate to submit to a strip search with no law enforcement justification.

Cotney admitted to repeatedly and improperly grabbing and touching a third inmate in 2009 and 2010, including telling the inmate that he needed to check whether the inmate had any new tattoos and ordering the inmate to remove all his clothing. The inmate had tattoos on his legs, chest, hipbones, arms and groin, and Cotney felt all the tattoos, according to his plea agreement.

Cotney admitted to falsely accusing a fourth inmate of possessing contraband and ordering that inmate into lockdown for 45 days and then having him transferred to a state prison, all in retaliation for the man rejecting a sexual proposition from Cotney.

By pleading guilty to four of the eight charges in the indictment, Cotney could face a year in prison on each of the four counts of using his authority as a jail administrator to deprive the inmates of their civil rights.

The FBI and the Alabama Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Tamarra Matthews Johnson is prosecuting.

Updated March 19, 2015