After former Kentucky jail guard Brandon Scott Price was convicted of sexually assaulting a female inmate, a judge gave him an unusual choice: He could serve jail time or join the military.
“If you don’t enroll in 30 days, you can report to the Franklin County Regional Jail,” Wingate said Friday, according to the State Journal. “You are under the gun, young man. You gotta do it.”
Price, who had previously worked at the jail in Franklin County, Ky., was the subject of a July 2019 lawsuit filed by a female inmate in federal court against the guard and other jail officials. The woman, who is not identified in court records, said Price told her that if she performed oral sex on him on Jan. 18, 2019, he would talk to the jail about an early release, according to the lawsuit.
Wingate said in court to Price, “You’re getting a huge break.” Price was originally charged with third-degree sodomy, but the charge was later reduced to second-degree sexual assault. The judge did not specify why the option of rejoining the military was part of Price’s sentencing.
“You made a terrible mistake, which I know personally cost the county money,” the judge said.
Wingate, a judge for the state’s 48th Judicial Circuit, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Thursday.
Whitney Lawson, Price’s attorney, told The Washington Post on Friday that Price previously served in the Army, which was a factor in Wingate’s terms of probation. Lawson said Price has started the process of reenlisting.
“I would not say that the requirement of military enlistment is typical,” she said in a statement. “However, it is very typical in Franklin County, and a number of other counties in Kentucky, for judges to include terms of probation which are specific to the individual before them.” She added: “In this case, that specific term of probation was military reenlistment.”
Army spokesman Matt Leonard said in a statement: “Any applicant who received a conviction for a sex offense is not eligible for enlistment or appointment. No waivers are authorized.”
Although it’s rare for a judge to offer military enlistment as part of a probated sentencing, efforts to limit crowding in jails sometimes mean that people convicted of serious crimes can avoid jail time if they perform military service.
Even with the judge’s ruling, it would have been difficult for Price to enlist, according to Army recruiting guidelines. Army Regulation 610-210 states that an applicant is ineligible if “as a condition for any civil conviction or adverse disposition or any other reason through a civil or criminal court, [they are] ordered or subjected to a sentence that implies or imposes enlistment into the Armed Forces of the United States.” While applicants with convictions can apply for a waiver, they have to demonstrate “sufficient mitigating circumstances that clearly justify approving the waiver.”
The judge’s ruling is among several recent cases that have sparked outcry after people convicted of sexual assault were given sentences allowing them to possibly avoid jail time. Christopher Belter, a New York man who pleaded guilty to rape and sexual abuse for assaulting four teenage girls during parties at his parents’ home, was given eight months’ probation in November. Niagara County Court Judge Matthew J. Murphy III concluded that time behind bars for the 20-year-old “would be inappropriate.” In Illinois, the sexual assault conviction of 18-year-old Drew Clinton was overturned this month after Adams County Judge Robert Adrian said sending the teen to prison was “not just.”
In January 2019, Price was instructed to take the female inmate to a hospital in Frankfort, Ky., because her blood pressure was elevated, the lawsuit filed by the inmate states.
“Though Price’s shift was near its end, Price volunteered to transport [the inmate] to the hospital,” according to the lawsuit. “Price transported [the inmate] alone, in violation of Jail policy and industry standards and practices.”
During her time at Frankfort Regional Medical Center, Price made “sexually-charged comments” over the course of five hours and bragged about his connections to people at the Kentucky Department of Corrections responsible for decisions on parole, the lawsuit says. After she was discharged, a captain with the jail noticed Price was alone with the inmate in a van but did nothing to correct it, the lawsuit alleges. When the two left the hospital, Price allegedly told the inmate how the captain “almost caught him.”
As Price drove the van back to the jail, he stopped on Big Eddy Road.
“He turned around and told [the inmate] if she performed oral sex on him, he would talk to the KDOC employee he knew about getting her released from jail earlier,” the lawsuit says.
When the inmate did not consent, Price got into the back of the van and began to sexually assault her as she remained shackled, according to the lawsuit.
Interviewed later by investigators about the incident, Price allegedly said he had “made a stupid mistake” but denied that the inmate gave him oral sex.
“I let a female inmate touch me inappropriately,” he said, according to authorities.
He was eventually arrested and posted a $10,000 bond, reported the State Journal.
Wingate, the judge who offered Price the choice to reenlist in the military instead of jail time, was reelected to the 48th Judicial Circuit in 2014 after he ran unopposed. His term expires next year.
Military waivers for convicts became a notable issue during the war on terrorism, when the armed forces granted thousands of moral waivers to sex offenders, as well as people convicted of violent felonies or drug offenses, the military-oriented Task and Purpose news website reported. Among those granted military waivers during that period was Steven Green, who had three misdemeanor convictions when he enlisted in the Army. Green was at the center of a brutal war crime in Iraq in 2006 — raping a 14-year-old girl and murdering her family. Green, who was convicted and given a life sentence, killed himself in prison in 2014.
Judges and lawmakers have continued to propose military service instead of jail time. Just last month, Florida state Sen. Darryl Rouson (D) proposed a bill that would allow people convicted of nonviolent misdemeanors to enlist in the military instead of going to jail.
Lawson, Price’s attorney, told Insider that the process for him to enlist in the military before the judge’s 30-day deadline has already proved to be tough. She told The Post on Friday that in the case of her client, the court recognized “what an individual needs to successfully complete probation.”
“We do not want to incarcerate individuals who have shown their ability to remain law-abiding, productive members of society,” she said.