Ex-inmate sues over recordings

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WALLA WALLA — A man wants financial compensation from Walla Walla County, claiming telephone conversations between him and his attorney were unlawfully recorded and monitored at the Walla Walla County Jail in 2011.

Joseph A. Davis — who spent time in prison before assault and other charges against him were dismissed last year — has filed a civil lawsuit seeking an unspecified amount of money from the county, Sheriff John Turner and Keilen Harmon, commanding officer of the jail.

Davis also claims in the suit he was assaulted by a jail officer who allegedly was forcing him into his cell during a dispute Feb. 4, 2011.

In Davis’ complaint, filed Jan. 23 in Franklin County Superior Court, he alleges negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, unlawful imprisonment and violation of privacy and constitutional protections.

He wants to be compensated for the distress, in addition to loss of reputation, enjoyment of life and liberty, and other claimed damages, according to his complaint.

Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle told the Union-Bulletin in an email Monday that defense of the lawsuit was handed over to the Washington Counties Risk Pool, which retained a Spokane law firm to represent the county and its employees named as defendants.

“The county intends to vigorously defend the suit,” Nagle added.

Davis, 23, pleaded guilty in Superior Court in May 2011 to two counts of third-degree assault that occurred during a disturbance the previous November. Officials said he repeatedly punched and hit his then-girlfriend Shelly Yeley at a residence on Sumach Street and threatened her and her sister, Yvonne Yeley, with a knife.

Davis also entered guilty pleas to one count each of tampering with a witness at the scene and intimidating a public servant by threatening an officer who took him to jail.

He didn’t admit guilt, but acknowledged the prosecution had evidence to convict him.

Judge John Lohrmann sentenced Davis the following month to three years and four months in prison, with credit for the time he’d spent in the County Jail related to charges in the case. Davis then was transferred to the state prison system.

Last spring, Davis complained that phone calls he had placed at the jail to his attorney, William McCool, were recorded in months leading up to his guilty pleas and sentencing.

Nagle’s office investigated and discovered that about 12-15 such calls from Davis to McCool’s cellphone had been recorded mistakenly and — in two instances — accessed by a Walla Walla police detective. Therefore, Nagle said last summer, he had to drop the charges, allowing for Davis’ release.

Although the detective didn’t remember listening to the phone calls, no one knew of the violation at the time and authorities didn’t receive any inside information as a result, Nagle said the case against Davis had to be dismissed because attorney-client conversations are “sacrosanct.”

Lohrmann signed the dismissal order July 19 and Davis was released from the Airway Heights Corrections Center five days later after being incarcerated for a total of about 21 months in jail and prison.

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