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No evidence of assault by Barry County Jail correction officer, questions linger

An investigation of an alleged assault complaint filed against a Barry County Jail corrections officer has resulted in no charges filed against the officer.

Candace Johnson, a therapist with a practice in Middleville, said she was in the jail on September 26, 2015, counseling her client, inmate Jesse Sweeney, when Corrections Officer Amber Jansens opened the door to the room where Johnson were sitting, striking her in the head and causing her severe medical problems that lasted months.


According to her statement to investigators, Jansens was monitoring the visit and saw Johnson showing the inmate something on her cell phone. She went to the room and told Johnson that cell phones aren’t allowed in the jail. Johnson put her telephone in her purse and Jansens left.


Johnson notified Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf by text the next day that she had been “struck in the head,” and might have to file a complaint. Nothing further happened until March, 25, 2016, when she filed a complaint of an alleged assault by Jansens.


In such cases, law enforcement personnel from agencies at least two counties away investigate the  charges. Det. Chuck Buckland, Ingham County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Trever Tate, VanBuren County Sheriff’s Office, investigated the claim, and sent their report to Barry County  Prosecutor Julie Nakfoor-Pratt for review.

The report was based on viewing the video of the situation, an in-house report by Undersheriff Matt Houchlei, and interviews with Houchlei, Lt. Pete Nevins, Jansens, two other corrections officers, an inmate, supervisor of the corrections officers, Johnson, her husband and Sweeney. They also reenacted the alleged event with Houchlei and Nevins.


Their interviews were recorded and put on CD’s “to assure complete and accurate statements of every person interviewed for comparison.” 

Nakfoor-Pratt reviewed the report. “She was  completely cleared by me,” she said. “There was no assault. I didn’t issue charges because there was no evidence to support the charges. There are no pending criminal or civil charges. ” That is fact and the case is closed. However, it may not be over. //


Nakfoor-Pratt said she considered charging Johnson with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor, for two reasons: “One, the corrections officer’s private attorney asked me to, and I also considered it because of some of the evidence contained in the investigator’s report. I decided not to charge her.”


Attorney Les Morant, from Britt Morant Law, PC of Grand Rapids, identified by Jansens attorney, Kerri Selleck, as Johnson’s attorney for a possible civil suit against Jansens, did not return a call asking for confirmation of any lawsuit. So far, no civil or criminal complaints have been filed.


The charge against Jansens stemmed from when Johnson was meeting with Sweeney at the jail every week before he was sent to prison after being convicted of criminal sexual conduct.


Visiting hours by family and friends of inmates are posted in the lobby of the jail, however, only the sheriff has the discretion to allow professionals to meet with inmates, if needed,  when he deems it necessary for their mental health or safety.


According to Selleck, when the staff questioned Johnson’s regular visits, Leaf told them it was by court order from Judge Amy McDowell.

Leaf disputes that, saying there was no court order. “I didn’t tell the staff that at all…she (Johnson) said she had approval from the judge, I was just repeating what she told me.”

Houchlei concurred. “We don’t need approval; Dar was just repeating what Johnson said.”


When meetings with Sweeney were moved from the room where attorney’s meet in private to assure attorney/client privilege, to a room monitored by cameras, Johnson complained to Leaf.


In her statement to investigators, Johnson said she texted Leaf saying “Judge (Amy) McDowell said we could have private meetings…” also, she said she got only vague reasons for the move from Leaf. The meetings with Sweeney ended with the September incident.


Selleck said it was her understanding that Leaf was a personal friend of Johnson and went to her home to file a complaint, something Leaf denies. He said he has never been to her home, Johnson was not a personal friend and she came to the Middleville Unit of the sheriff’s office to file the claim.


Selleck said her client is “devastated…it weights heavily on her…she goes to work every day wondering if her job is in jeopardy.” Asked about the corrections officers morale, Leaf said it was “fine,” and that he had expected that no charges would be filed.  Jansens “is probably walking on air because no charges were filed…things are good with her and her work,”  he said.


Jansens personnel record shows she has no marks in her personnel file during her employment at the jail, three years as part time and five years as a full-time corrections officer.

Houchlei said investigations of officers is rare but part of the system when working with the public.  “They have every right to complain about how we do our business,” he said.

He would like a sheriff office website where people can make their concerns known, commend deputies or lodge complaints, he said.







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