NASHVILLE, TN Nov 17 2013
Former Riverbend correctional officer Kevin Simmons was arrested Friday by TBI agents and taken to the Wilson County Jail, following a Channel 4 I-Team investigation that exposed his alleged involvement in trying to smuggle a cell phone into the prison.
Simmons was charged with one count of official misconduct.
While Simmons told the Channel 4 I-Team he never intended to bring the phone into the prison, texts, a note, recorded conversations and a sting by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation raise lots of questions.
The TBI sting came about after the Channel 4 I-Team gave the state our findings from a two-month investigation, in which we recorded calls and gathered details about cell phone smuggling with the help of Riverbend inmate David Faulkner and his fiancé, Sandy Jordan.
Faulkner and Jordan first tried to share their information with the Tennessee Department of Correction hoping if he shared what he knew, he could get moved out of Riverbend and into another prison.
“They [correction officials] basically kind of laughed at me. They didn’t feel like there was credence to this,” Jordan said.
Faulkner began sharing information with the Channel 4 I-Team, including showing how easily he has cell phone access. Faulkner sent photographs of his cell and of himself holding his phone.
Faulkner had dozens of phone calls to document his ability to get phones and how often he was having conversations with someone outside his prison cell about obtaining phones.
Faulkner then sent the Channel 4 I-Team a note that he said was slipped into his cell from a correctional officer that gave specific instructions of how to get a new phone at a cost of $400 and how to wrap it in plastic.
The note was signed “Simmons,” and Faulkner said that was the last name of a correctional officer.
“Over the last 18 months, I’ve probably bought 20 phones from him, probably 1,000 packs of cigarettes, probably at least a pound of weed,” Faulkner said.
Hoping to provide further proof that a correctional officer was selling his phones, Faulkner’s fiancé then started to receive texts from someone offering to bring a phone into the prison.
“A guard was texting me during his shift,” Jordan said.
Jordan shared the texts with the Channel 4 I-Team, and when she suggested they meet at her hotel near the prison, the text reply read: “Too close to work. That’s way too risky.”
In the attempt to further prove what Faulkner was telling, Jordan then recorded a conversation with the person they believed to be a correctional officer.
“I have a lot to lose to do something like this,” Jordan is heard saying.
“You take a risk just like I do,” responds a male voice.
“‘I’ll be honest with you. It scares me,” Jordan said.
“We both have a lot to lose,” the male voice said.
“It can be anything I want? Phone, weed, anything that he needs, right?” Jordan asks.
“Right,” said the man. “I don’t mind helping (Faulkner), but, because of what it is, it has to cost him because of the risk that I take.”
Jordan then got a text from the man she was speaking to, asking for a picture of herself. Jordan responded and the man sent a picture of himself.
The TBI confirmed that picture is of Riverbend correctional officer Kevin Simmons.
When the Channel 4 I-Team took all our recorded conversations, the texts and note to the Department of Correction, they contacted the district attorney, who in turn called in the TBI.
Jordan said the TBI then asked her to help in a sting.
“I wanted to make sure they had this kind of leverage and they needed to act,” Jordan said.
The TBI confirmed that they took Jordan to a hotel in Mt. Juliet, where she arranged for Simmons to meet her.
Inside the hotel, the TBI confirms they gave Jordan $3,000, a cell phone, tobacco rolling papers, perfume, a note and a card with cell phone minutes to give to Simmons.
Jordan said as soon as the transaction was made TBI agents moved in.
“They came into the room as so as they had the money, placed a gun right to his head, which was quite shocking to me,” Jordan said.
Afterwards, Simmons was fired by the Department of Correction.
Simmons told the Channel 4 I-Team he denies writing the note and that he did not intend to deliver the phone to inmate David Faulkner.
Simmons said he may have more to say at a later time.
Jordan said the TBI has their work cut out for them.
“I believe they (the TBI) want to get the network within the prison because there are more people involved,” Jordan said.
We repeatedly asked for an interview with the Department of Correction to inquire about the cell phone smuggling, but spokeswoman Dorinda Carter instead sent a statement, reading in part:
“Although we will not discuss the specifics of this particular investigation at this time, we feel our investigative staff took a progressive stance while collaborating with other law enforcement agencies specifically, the TBI. We are concerned about any corruption and we realize from time to time a few employees will make poor decisions that lead to policy violations.”
As a result of his cooperation with the investigation, David Faulkner was transferred to another prison.
The Channel 4 I-Team has also learned new details in another part of our investigation.
The inmate who assisted the Channel 4 I-Team gather the information on the cell phone smuggling, David Faulkner, is suing the state after he says correctional officers beat him in 2009 at West Tennessee Penitentiary and hog-tied for hours him afterwards despite his injuries.
Faulkner provided us a letter that he said was a settlement offer from the state for $85,000.
Before our story aired, we asked the department of correction to discuss the settlement offer, but they refused because of the pending litigation.
After our story aired, the attorney general’s office stated that they did not offer the settlement, and have now filed court papers saying that Faulkner forged the letter.
Today, the Channel 4 I-Team confirmed through court records that the attorney general’s office did offer a settlement to Faulkner in March, reading, “I think a more reasonable demand to settle this case would be as follows: for the TDOC to forgive $500 for the amount you owe in copying expenses. Let me know if this is acceptable, and I will take it to the department, and we will get this case settled.”
In letters obtained Friday, Faulkner refused that offer on March 22, and the fake settlement letter is dated June 22.
The TBI is now investigating who wrote the letter of the false offer.
NASHVILLE, TN Nov 17 2013