Indictment doesn't ease former inmate's anger over theft - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Indictment doesn't ease former inmate's anger over theft of food stamp card

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Thanksgiving Day, Gregory Sciance found little comfort in learning that Sgt. Wanda Smith had resigned as a booking officer at the Hamilton County Jail, after an internal investigation concluded  that, as a Sheriff's Office news release put it, she "appeared to be involved in the reported theft" of his Electronic Benefit Transfer (food stamp) card.

"It hasn't helped me any other that the person who did this to me was wrong and they caught em," Sciance told Channel 3 November 22.  "That's good."

      Three months later, Sciance has found part-time work in Alabama. But he plans to return to Hamilton County March 1, his attorney says, when Smith appears in court after a Grand Jury indicted her on charges of Official Misconduct and Theft.

    "He feels violated," attorney Brandy Spurgin says. "It (the indictment) certainly leads people to think that there's some reason not to trust people who have an official position"

     The indictment alleges that Smith "did unlawfully and intentionally or knowingly commit an act relating to her office and employment, that constituted an unauthorized exercise of official power."

       Sciance first contacted Channel 3 and the Sheriff's Office November 18, after his EBT card failed to turn up among his property when he was released from Silverdale Correctional Facility.

"There were 8 purchases made, starting September 10," Sciance told us then. "I was still over at the Hamilton County jail then.

Thanksgiving Day, Sheriff Jim Hammond confirmed in a telephone interview that Internal Affairs investigators had validated Sciance's own detective work that he'd revealed to Channel 3 three days earlier; namely that his card had been used eight times while he was in custody at the Jail and Silverdale.

"She (then-Sgt. Smith) was caught on camera at the Jail and at the stores," Sheriff Hammond said.

Sciance determined that his card incurred more than $370 in charges for food items and candy at two Dollar General Stores and Wal Mart in Dunlap, and a Dollar Tree in Soddy Daisy.

"Basically, it was still an active card when I called and canceled it," Sciance told Channel 3 November 19.

Sheriff's Office policy requires booking officers to log in every item of an inmate's property, from clothing to cash, to credit cards, according to Capt. John Swope, the jail's director.

"That log sheet goes into a zippered bag with the property, which is then sealed and put into a larger bag before it's locked into the property room," Capt. Swope says.

Six video cameras monitor the Jail Intake Area. The cameras' video feeds to a central control room, where Corrections officer monitor feeds from the dozens of cameras throughout the Jail.

"It's not unusual, though, for only one officer to be working the property intake," Capt. Swope says.

Should a booking officer fail to note property items on the log sheet, an inmate would have no way to prove that item even existed, much was less stolen, unless a review of the security video could establish the item's existence.

"We store video from each security camera for sixty days," Capt. Swope says.

Smith was arrested Valentine's Day, one day after the grand jury returned her indictment. Her booking report lists a home address in Dunlap, not far from the stores in which Sciance's EBT card allegedly was misused.

Channel 3 was unable to reach Smith by telephone Friday afternoon. She didn't answer her door either.

Sciance is considering suing Hamilton County and the Sheriff's Office, his lawyer says.

"We're not going to let this go until he feels comfortable that he's done all he can to make sure this doesn't happen again," Spurgin says.

"We certainly want to look into it to see if there's any indication that this has happened before."


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