Inmates commonly used as 'enforcers' at Missouri jail

Tuesday, August 31, 2010 | 1:50 p.m. CDT

POTOSI — Details are emerging about jailers recruiting inmates to commit vicious attacks on other prisoners at the Washington County jail, including the severe beating of a man being held on a bad check charge.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch consulted jail records and other documents, and interviewed two men who said they were attacked at the jail in Potosi, about 50 miles southwest of St. Louis, and an offender convicted in one of those attacks.

In July, a federal indictment accused Washington County's chief deputy, 57-year-old Vernon G. Wilson of Potosi, of civil rights violations and making false statements to the FBI. Authorities allege jail staff rewarded inmates who were used as enforcers to attack other inmates, including those jailed for relatively minor offenses.

Wilson has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer says the case "will be vigorously defended."

Wilson's daughter, Valeria Wilson Jackson, was a correctional officer at the jail. She pleaded guilty in federal court in July to one count of obstructing justice and is awaiting sentencing. As part of her plea, she said her father used an inmate — identified by the Post-Dispatch as Tommy Mackley, who hanged himself three years ago — as an enforcer.

Gary Gieselman of Potosi was jailed on a bad check charge on Sept. 29, 2005. That day, he was beaten so badly in the jail that he was rushed by helicopter to Saint Louis University Hospital for emergency surgery.

Prosecutors say Gieselman was targeted because of incessant complaining and calling Jackson a "bitch." The Post-Dispatch said Mackley, an accused killer, had a romantic interest in Jackson.

Prosecutors said nonviolent prisoners, even those like Gieselman held on relatively minor charges, would be removed from what was called the "soft tank" and placed with violent offenders in the "rough tank" as punishment.

Mackley and other alleged enforcers are identified in court documents by their initials, or not at all. The Post-Dispatch used jail records and interviews to learn their identities.

Mackley's mother, Sharon Witt, told the Post-Dispatch she believes that her son was threatened into committing the acts of violence.

Mackley was in jail on charges of first-degree murder, arson, robbery and armed criminal action. Later, he was charged with first-degree assault resulting in serious injury in the attack on Gieselman, a jail staffer said.

He was transferred to the St. Francois County Jail in December 2007 and hanged himself.

Christopher R. Wallace and Lanny Parks were convicted in the assault on Gieselman.

Wallace received a five-year sentence in the attack, also concurrent to unrelated sentences — five years for robbery and 10 years for drug trafficking. Parks was sentenced to three years in prison for the attack, concurrent with an unrelated three-year term for endangering a child and resisting arrest.

In a phone interview from state prison, Wallace told the Post-Dispatch, that enforcers were rewarded with cigarettes.

"Seems like every time somebody would get hurt, everybody would smoke pretty good," Wallace said.

Washington County's former sheriff, Kevin Schroeder, was not implicated. Jackson's plea agreement said he was not involved in the Gieselman incident. The current sheriff, Andy Skiles, in office since 2009, said only three employees remain from Schroeder's administration.

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