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Judge Calls For A New Look At Jail Guard Rules

Perhaps Bexar County Jail should re-examine its policy on allowing guards to bring in food, a judge suggested this week as two ex-jailers were convicted in separate courtrooms for smuggling contraband.

State District Judge Sid Harle made the comment Monday as he sentenced former jailer William Douglas Hemphill, 33, to five years’ deferred adjudication for smuggling a cell phone to an inmate in a box of ramen noodles.

Two months earlier, Harle had sentenced ex-jailer Robert Falcon to six years in prison for trying to smuggle heroin to inmates in barbacoa tacos. And jurors Tuesday convicted former jailer Alfred Casas of aiding an escape attempt by smuggling hacksaw blades in tacos.

These are older incidents just now getting adjudicated, said Deputy Chief Roger Dovalina, who oversees the jail. The few bad apples have been fired and arrested, he said, and he doesn’t remember any new cases arising in the past couple of years.

“We are looking at different options, but it has been difficult” to bar jailers from bringing their own food because they don’t get lunch breaks like regular employees, Dovalina said.

Accepting bribes is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. But in exchange for an earlier no-contest plea, prosecutors Monday instead pursued a lesser charge against Hemphill of possessing a prohibited substance in a correctional facility. Hemphill, who now works for a box manufacturer in Louisiana, can’t work in law enforcement in Texas again.

Jailers searched inmate cells in July 2008 and found the phone in the cell of Nathan Knowles, 28, who was awaiting trial on drug and theft charges.

“Another inmate told me that if I get cool with Officer Hemphill, he would bring me a cell phone,” Knowles said in a written statement.

In a letter of resignation, Hemphill admitted bringing the phone but said it was only after Knowles threatened the jailer’s family and his girlfriend.

“I started to blow it off until he started naming my parents’ street and the details of my car,” he wrote.

If there was a threat, Hemphill never reported it, as jail policy requires, authorities said.

A smuggled phone could be used to threaten witnesses or for ongoing criminal conduct, said Adriana Biggs, chief of the district attorney’s white-collar crimes division.