After a former Kentucky jail guard was convicted of sexually assaulting a female inmate, a judge gave Brandon Scott Price an unusual choice: He could serve jail time or join the military.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate told the 28-year-old that his one-year sentence would be probated – effectively overturning any jail time – while he served the nation. Or he could serve time behind bars instead.
“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, that he would talk to the jail about an early release, according to the lawsuit.
Wingate acknowledged 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 return a request for comment early Thursday.
Whitney Lawson, Price’s attorney, did not immediately return a request for comment. She told Insider that Price previously served in the Army, which played a factor in Wingate’s terms of probation. Lawson said Price has started the process of reenlisting.
“It is not uncommon for judges to put unique conditions like this based on the defendant that is in front of them and create conditions that will best serve them to stay on the straight and narrow,” Lawson said. “It’s just that this one happened to have the military element to it.”
Army spokesman Matt Leonard said in a statement that “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, instances in which those convicted of serious crimes avoid jail time in favor of military service can happen to help limit crowding in jails.
Even with the judge’s ruling, it will be 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 Murphy concluded that time behind bars for the 20-year-old “would be inappropriate.” In Illinois, 18-year-old Drew Clinton had his sexual assault conviction 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.
Despite not giving her consent, Price got into the back of the van and began to sexually assault the female inmate, who remained shackled, according to the lawsuit.
When Price was later interviewed by investigators about the incident, he 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 those with convictions was 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, Task and Purpose 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 told Insider that the process for Price to enlist in the military before the judge’s 30-day deadline has already proved to be tough.
“The problem is, you can ask 10 people whether he can reenlist and in what branch, and they’ll give you nine different answers,” she said, “so we’re trying to work through that.”