Jailer Billy Roberts, 47, and 30-year-old Amy Lancaster have a special relationship.
It started late last spring, when Roberts hired Lancaster to help supervise the inmate work program at a starting salary that rivaled her superiors.
A few months later, he granted her a 10 percent raise.
And just this past June, he married her.
It’s unclear how or when the relationship between Lancaster and Roberts began. Calls to Lancaster weren’t returned, and Roberts declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
A jail official confirmed their relationship started before the jail implemented its no-fraternization policy among staff, so the couple’s relationship is legal. But rumors of favoritism were enough to make Franklin County Fiscal Court and Kentucky State Police open up separate investigations into “allegations of misconduct” at the jail.
Their relationship is also what allegedly led a jail employee, saying he was transferred after he disclosed information about Lancaster and Roberts to Fiscal Court and state police, to file a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Roberts.
The following information comes from interviews and hundreds of pages of documents provided to The State Journal through open records requests to get to the bottom of how Lancaster was hired, why she was making as much as her superiors and what prompted Fiscal Court to ask Roberts to take a leave of absence.
POSITIONS AND PAY
In early June of 2011, Roberts hired Lancaster as the jail’s first official Assistant Class D Coordinator. The position was created to assist the employee who oversees the Class D program – essentially the jail’s inmate work program – after the closure of the Frankfort Career Development Center increased the number of inmates in the Class D program.
Lancaster’s job duties included documenting inmates’ payroll, arranging job sites and setting up transfers of Class D inmates from other facilities.
About a month after Lancaster became assistant, Roberts told Bill Read, the jail’s director of personnel, that he was seeing Lancaster.
“He came to me and said … ‘We’ve been out on a few dates, and I just wanted to let you know,’” Read told The State Journal in an interview recently at the jail. “That was the end of the conversation.”
As an assistant, Lancaster started out as a lance corporal, making $12.50 an hour. That was more than what the jail’s six corporals – a higher rank – were making at the time.
Read told The State Journal Lancaster’s higher level of pay was based on the job duties and her prior experience.
“It’s a lot of book work, and she had experience with dealing with data and records,” Read said.
Lancaster worked as a crime analyst for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department from 2002-2007 and a year as program coordinator for the Kentucky Department for Public Health, where she worked on the Kentucky Child Fatality Review Program.
However, that’s the same experience Lancaster had when she was first hired by the jail in August of 2010 as a part-time corrections officer, making $9 an hour. When she became a full-time corrections officer later that month, her pay was upped to $10 an hour.
She resigned from that position in October of 2010 to take care of a child from a previous marriage, her file shows.
Read acknowledged Lancaster’s higher wages could be perceived in the wrong way, but said her new responsibilities justified the increase in pay and were the reason she was making as much as her superiors.
“If you separate one or two elements out of it and look at it, then yeah, people start scratching their heads … but again, you have to look at everything else that comes with that position,” he said.
“… The job itself and what it required and called for, that (pay) was not unreasonable.”
Lancaster’s experience also explains why she was chosen as Assistant Class D Coordinator over current jail employees, Read said.
According to the jail’s personnel manual, in filing job vacancies, “current employees who meet job requirements shall be considered for the position. If the Jailer determines the needs of the jail are best served by employment of external candidates, he/she may recommend the appointment that is the Jail’s best interest.”
Read said that’s what happened.
“It was not advertised … within the jail because we didn’t have the personnel,” Read said. “… The position required a special skill set that did not exist within.”
It’s unclear how Lancaster found out about the position. Read said the job wasn’t advertised outside of the jail, either.
Shortly after Lancaster was hired, as part of the next fiscal year’s budget, she and the rest of the jail’s staff received 1 percent raises. Her pay was upped to $12.63/hour.
At the Aug. 26, 2011 Fiscal Court meeting, the court amended the jail’s personnel manual to prohibit dating, cohabitation, marriage and physical/sexual relationships among all jail employees and officials.
The policy now states that “officers or officials in violation of this policy with subordinate officers or staff may constitute official misconduct and abuse of authority and shall be referred to the proper authorities for investigation and prosecution.”
County Attorney Rick Sparks told The State Journal that the policy was amended given what had happened under former jailer Hunter Hay’s administration.
In the mid 1990s, a jury convicted Hay of rape, attempted rape, sodomy and sexual abuse after he sexually assaulted several of his employees. The charges led to a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Franklin County, which it is still paying off. Sparks said he approached Roberts on amending the policy after he realized the jail didn’t have any prohibitions of fraternization among employees.
The amended policy included these exceptions: “Relationships entered into prior to the adoption of this policy, couples employed and married or living together or those in an established dating relationship are exempted from the restrictions of this policy.”
A month after that policy was put into place, on Sept. 26, Lancaster received a 10 percent pay raise, upping her salary to $14 an hour.
It’s unclear why Lancaster received that raise. At one point, Lancaster was made a corporal, Read said, so it’s possible the raise reflected that change in ranking. But there’s nothing in Lancaster’s file to confirm this.
The State Journal received copies of Lancaster and three other employees’ files. The others’ files contained documents called “Promotion Tracking Forms,” which catalogued any raises that employee received. Lancaster’s file did not contain any promotion tracking forms, although Read said it should have.
“I’m not involved in the raises situation,” Read said. “I can recommend, but I do not authorize raises.
“The jailer does.”
On Sept. 26, Roberts authorized raises for several other employees. One sergeant’s salary changed from $12.63/hour to $13. Another sergeant went from $12.88 to $14, and the Class D Coordinator’s salary went from $13.64 to $14/hour.
Lancaster’s salary was then equivalent to the Class D Coordinator – the officer she was assisting – and as much or more than two of her superiors.
INVESTIGATION AND CALL FOR RESIGNATION
On Dec. 14, 2011 Roberts and Read received a letter from Fiscal Court, informing them that it would be conducting an investigation at the jail.
About an hour after receiving the letter, officials with the Franklin County Fire Department, who weren’t part of the investigation, parked a mobile command post outside the jail. Fiscal Court Human Resources Director Jennifer Lewis-Bass and an outside consultant, Ed Cannon, arrived shortly after to conduct interviews with jail employees in the command post.
Read said the fire department’s command post was on site for just a few hours that day, and he never learned what the county discovered in the on-site interviews.
The day after the investigation, Dec. 15, Roberts sent a letter to Judge-Executive Ted Collins asking that the county provide him with private legal representation.
“Since the events of December 14, 2011, when I was advised by you, the Franklin County Fiscal Court has instituted an investigation into certain allegations made against me in my official capacity, I now request that said court provide me with legal representation,” the letter says.
The letter goes on to say the county attorney would normally provide Roberts with representation, but in this case it would create a conflict of interest, because the county attorney represents Fiscal Court.
Two weeks later, Fiscal Court responded with a letter stating the court had passed the results from its investigation into “allegations made about (Roberts) regarding personnel practices” on to Kentucky State Police.
“The results of the investigation reveal numerous troubling accusations of improper conduct on your part. While in this letter, we are not taking a position regarding the truth of these allegations, we have taken certain steps as a result of the allegations,” the letter says.
The letter goes on to say the court notified its insurer, the Kentucky Association of Counties, that current or former jail employees may take legal action as a result of these allegations.
The letter also states, “Our counsel has advised us that anyone who retaliates or conspires to retaliate against an employee who has complained about employment practices, or assisted in any investigation of employment practices against you, can be personally liable for damages and attorney’s fees to the employee.”
The letter concludes in asking Roberts to “examine (his) conduct” as jailer.
“… If you are involved in any questionable activity, take immediate corrective action,” the letter says. “We also urge you to take a leave of absence as the active Jailer pending the outcome of the Kentucky State Police investigation.”
The letter was signed by Collins and the six Fiscal Court magistrates.
On Jan. 3, Roberts responded, asking Fiscal Court for a copy of the investigation and further explanation.
“Be assured that I am clear of conscience regarding any wrongdoing and will do nothing to put the citizens of this community in jeopardy,” Roberts says in the letter. “I find your suggestion of a leave of absence unnecessary and demeaning based on spurious allegations and unspecified acts you keep referring to in your communication with me.”
Roberts also asks in his letter why he hasn’t been appointed legal counsel, like he requested in his Dec. 15 letter.
“I was advised by Judge Collins, by voice mail, that my request had been referred to the Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo). As of the date of this letter, January 3, 2012 KACo knows nothing of any such request from Fiscal Court …” the letter says.
Roberts’ letter was sent to Collins, all six magistrates, the county attorney, KACo and Louisville attorney Ted Shouse.
Shouse is representing Roberts on matters regarding KSP’s investigation. He declined to say if he was hired by Roberts or appointed by Fiscal Court or other officials to represent the jailer.
Shouse told The State Journal he and Roberts “look forward” to the conclusion of the KSP investigation.
“We’re confident that it will prove that we have done nothing wrong, because we have, in fact, done nothing wrong,” Shouse told The State Journal.
“We have provided hundreds of pages of documents to the state police and have made staff available and have cooperated fully, because we’ve done nothing wrong.”
On May 3, jail employee Chris Blankenship filed a civil suit in Franklin Circuit Court against Roberts and Franklin County, citing Kentucky’s whistleblower law.
In the complaint, Blankenship says he was involuntarily transferred without cause from his position of government services program director to food services director.
The complaint says Blankenship’s transfer is a violation of a statutory provision, informally known as Kentucky’s whistleblower law, which prohibits employers from discriminating or threatening to take action against employees who disclose information to law enforcement agencies or any other “appropriate body or authority.”
As government services program director, Blankenship was Lancaster’s supervisor.
When the suit was filed, Blankenship’s lawyer, Richard Guarnieri, told The State Journal his client spoke to KSP and Fiscal Court during their investigations about Roberts giving special treatment to certain employees.
“A lot of it relates to the paying of employees, recording of their time, people being paid for work they weren’t performing, people being treated preferentially … (and) favoritism of certain employees who have relationships with Roberts,” Guarnieri said.
Two weeks after the suit was made public, Lancaster resigned as Assistant Class D Coordinator.
In her resignation letter dated May 17, Lancaster says she’s pregnant and that she wants to stay at home to raise her child.
“Unfortunately, there have been circumstances to occur lately that leave me feeling as if it is in my best interest, for my health and that of my babies (sic) health, to go on and leave,” she says in the letter.
“The work environment here is now stressful and uncomfortable.”
Lancaster’s last day at the jail was May 31. Three weeks later, she married Roberts.
The marriage certificate lists both of their addresses as Roberts’ house on St. Johns Road.
It’s unknown when Lancaster moved into Roberts’ home. All official jail documents list her home address on Brighton Park Boulevard.
ALLEGATIONS OF SPECIAL TREATMENT
Lancaster’s name first appeared in Blankenship’s whistleblower suit on July 17, in Guarnieri and Blankenship’s response to Franklin County’s first set of interrogatories, which is a list of questions from one litigant to another.
The documents say Blankenship disclosed information to KSP and Fiscal Court on “management problems” he had with Lancaster. He said the problems included Lancaster completing incorrect time sheets, taking lengthy lunch breaks, excessive tardiness and absences and not following proper procedures or notifying the jail as to being absent or taking leave.
“During this period of time, Ms. Lancaster was the girlfriend of Jailer Roberts and was taking advantage of such relationship, with regard to her work conduct and behavior with the knowledge and approval of Jailer Roberts, which made the entire situation extremely difficult for Mr. Blankenship,” the response says.
The response goes on to say Blankenship notified Fiscal Court of these problems on Nov. 23, 2011, three weeks before Fiscal Court conducted its investigation at the jail. The response says Blankenship also disclosed this information to officials with Fiscal Court’s investigation Dec. 14, and that he also told KSP investigator Sgt. Thomas Walsh as part of KSP’s investigation.
The response also says Blankenship notified Read, Roberts and Capt. Rachel Hensley, the jail’s director of administration, of these problems. However, Blankenship couldn’t provide any documentation of these notifications.
Read told The State Journal the absence of documentation was because Blankenship’s allegations are untrue.
“You can make allegations about anything,” Read said. “But (with) the absence of some kind of documentation or proof, you’re actually fighting air. How do you counter that, or how do you respond to that?”
Read declined to say if Blankenship approached him in person or on the phone about Lancaster. He says he’s never had a problem with Lancaster’s performance, and said there is nothing in Lancaster’s file showing otherwise.
There were no job evaluations on Lancaster. When Lancaster’s job was created, she was appointed an administrator. According to the jail’s personnel manual, all employees are required to undergo annual evaluations – except administrators.
Lancaster’s file contains no official complaints regarding her work as Assistant Class D Coordinator. She was written up a few times during her stint as a corrections officer for not turning in time sheets on time and not following the correct procedures for calling off work.
Read denied the allegation of Lancaster taking “excessive absences.” According to her personnel file, Lancaster took 1-2 days off a month from October through May.
“Generally, a person taking off a day a month is not abnormal,” Read said.
The response says Class D Coordinator Donna Miller and Alan Tyson, a former sergeant who worked with Lancaster, could confirm Blankenship’s allegations against Lancaster.
Tyson could not be reached for comment, and Miller declined to comment to The State Journal.
The interrogatory responses also specified the amounts Blankenship is seeking from the county and Roberts. Blankenship is seeking $1 million for punitive damages, $1 million for “mental anguish and emotional distress” and about $2,100 in lost overtime wages per month starting in April.
Guarnieri has told The State Journal he doesn’t expect the case to be heard until at least next year.
Frankfort attorney John Harrison is representing Roberts in the civil suit. He declined comment, citing his policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Although Capt. David Jude, KSP’s public affairs commander, said in June that officers told him the investigation wouldn’t be closed “anytime soon,” Walsh recently told the State Journal that he was “wrapping up” the investigation. Walsh declined to release further details.
Whatever happens, Read said he’s eagerly awaiting KSP’s final report.
“The bottom line is, in one respect, I’m glad they’re doing it,” Read said.
“… They’re going to end up doing a report whenever they finish their investigation, and hopefully, at least for some people, this will put it to rest once and for all.”
Roberts is serving his second term as jailer. He’s up for re-election in 2014.