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Press Release

Clay County Jail Administrator Sentenced To Four Years In Prison For Violating Inmates' Civil Rights

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

BIRMINGHAM -- A federal judge today sentenced the former Clay County jail administrator to four years in prison for using his authority to sexually abuse or otherwise deprive inmates of their civil rights, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard D. Schwein Jr. and Alabama Bureau of Investigation Division Chief Neil G. Tew.

JEFFREY SCOTT COTNEY, 48, of Ashland, pleaded guilty in February to four counts of deprivation of rights under color of law between May 2009 and spring 2010, while he worked as administrator of the Clay County Detention Center. U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler sentenced Cotney for the civil rights violations. Along with the prison term, Judge Coogler ordered Cotney to register as a sex offender and prohibited him from seeking or holding a law enforcement job or any position granting him custodial authority over others. Cotney agreed to all those conditions in his plea agreement with the government.

"We're committed to working with the FBI and ABI to ensure this kind of abuse is uncovered and prosecuted," Vance said.

While jails and prisons strip inmates of many individual rights, including freedom of movement, freedom of action and freedom of choice, the government notes in its sentencing memorandum, incarcerated individuals retain the right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment, to maintain bodily integrity, and to not be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

"The system of incarceration requires trustworthy, honorable individuals who will properly exercise the immense powers granted to them by the State," the government said in its memorandum. "Defendant Cotney violated individuals' constitutional rights, abused the public trust, and corrupted the judicial process."

Part of Cotney's job as Clay County's jail administrator was running the inmate worker program, recommending which inmates could participate in the program and supervising the inmate workers.

Cotney pleaded guilty to four counts of depriving three different inmates of their civil rights, but the conduct he admitted 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 for 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 that he repeatedly and improperly grabbed and touched a third inmate in 2009 and 2010. Cotney acknowledged he told the inmate that he needed to check whether the inmate had any new tattoos and ordered 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.

Cotney also 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.

The FBI and ABI investigated the case, which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tamarra Matthews-Johnson and Elizabeth Holt prosecuted.

Updated March 19, 2015